Monday, October 3, 2016

Downtown 10/2/2016

"In front of the doorway to the most holy place was something that looked like a wooden altar.  It was five feet high and four feet square, and its corners, its base, and its sides were made of wood. The man said, 'This is a reminder that the LORD is constantly watching over his temple.' " Ezekiel 41:21b-22

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what your are." 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 

The last two trips downtown have both been late in the evening on Sundays.  Yesterday I got there just as the sun had gone down, so it was light for about thirty minutes or so.  I had loaded up the car with some bags of clothes I had recently been given.  As I sorted through them at home I saw that, for the most part, they were women's clothes. Not only were they women's clothes but they looked to be very young women's clothes, like maybe teenager sizes.  I wondered how these clothes were going to work.   Although I see homeless women, the percentage is low and I wondered how long it would take for these clothes to be given out.  I didn't have a lot more time to load the car up as it was getting late, so I decided to just go with them and threw a few blankets and sweaters in the car and took off. I had already made up a dozen lunches, so I left and got there about 6:30 pm.  I got off the freeway on Los Angeles St and drove through a very narrow one-way alley just east of Los Angeles St (where Rocky the pit bull dog used to hang-out) and as I came out of that driveway it ends up next to the freeway off-ramp, separated by a fence.  You can get through a break in the fence and there was a guy I knew standing there who saw me coming.  He came over to the car and we talked for a few minutes and then I saw a woman over where he was.  I asked him if she was hungry too and she ended up coming over.  Well, wouldn't you know it, but she was very slender, regular height, but slender and she had a friend on down the driveway who was thin too.  I knew that woman, her name is Hope and yes she is very skinny.  So a lot of those clothes I wondered about who could use them, they both could.  Here it was the very first stop of the trip.  Now who could plan a coincidence like that?  By now I had driven on down to where the driveway ended in the first street east of Los Angeles St and a few other homeless folks from there came over to the car.  I gave out food, blankets and a lot of clothes.  I ended up praying with a group of these people, our arms around each other in a circle.  It's my favorite thing to do on these trips!

A couple of weeks ago I went down an alley off 25th and San Pedro.  It use to be a big hang-out for a lot of homeless folks in the area.  That day there were only four people there and we all knew each other.  I had prayed before hand that wherever I went that day I wanted to bring the Kingdom of Heaven.  I wanted it to be a calming and joyful time.  That day it was the first place I went to and it was still light out.  It's hard to accurately describe the pleasant looks and smiles on the people's faces. One could say they were just happy to receive stuff from me, and that would certainly be true, But its somehow different when they're asking you to pray for them before you leave.  Yesterday, as I was getting close to that alley, (I had prayed in front of the burned-out church before I got there) I remembered I hadn't seen Becky there in a long time.  As I drove down the alley, wouldn't you know it, but there she was.  The first person I saw.  There were two other men there who I hadn't seen in a long time either.  We talked for a while, I showed them some pictures of my dog on my phone. Becky always has some cats and dogs with her.  I even showed them a picture of my daughter's graduation day. They all loved seeing the pictures.  Both trips down that alley were a blessing to me.  I finished out yesterday's trip looking for 'singles' I call them.  People who are by themselves.  I think yesterday I only had about 3 or 4 lunches left after I went down the two alleys.  I finished up finding Alan, who is usually found up and down Olympic Blvd somewhere and sometimes on Alameda near Olympic. That's where I found him yesterday on Alameda.  It's always a blessing to me to help this man.  --Until next time.  John

PS:  Ok, about the bible verses at the top.  As I read through Ezekiel this year, that verse caught my eye and I immediately thought of the New Testament implications with the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer.  If we are the new temple.....God dwells in us.....and He will constantly watch over us. Remember, the very last thing Jesus said to His disciples before he ascended into heaven?  "I will be with you always, even to the end of the world."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Downtown Sunday 8/28/16

"Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer."  --Psalm 94:19

OK, it's been awhile since I've written.  For the better part of two months I was only able to make one trip, and that was to Compton (more about that later).  During those two months I had to work an extra day each week and with trips to the hospital every other week I just ran out of 'weekend'.  I made the one trip in July to Compton and now the last two Sunday's I've gone downtown again. Hopefully, I can stay on track.  My work schedule is back to nights, so Sunday's are spent sleeping during the day now and then hurrying to get a trip in before the sun goes down.

Alright, so what's this about Compton.  With all the civil unrest in recent months I've felt drawn to go there and make some new friends.  I am not real familiar with the city even though I've lived near it and driven through it all my life.  I was given a tip as to where to start looking for homeless folks, but the day I went was a weekday (a Monday I think) and it was brutally hot that day, like over a 100 degrees.  I am reluctant to even go downtown Los Angeles on a weekday due to the pace of life during the week is far different than on a Sunday and I know the downtown turf very well. You just can't stop and talk with people much because of the traffic and parking problems, so going to an unfamiliar area was going to be asking a lot and the trip turned out less than optimal.  However, I'll try again on a Sunday in the near future.  I know eventually, if I continue to go there, I'll be asked, "What are you doing here?"  I'm prepared for people being cautious and wary of someone who is as old as I am and looks like I do being kind of out of place there.  Yet someone needs to go and show people what Christ's love looks like on the streets where often there is no light and no love. Remember in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, he was speaking to Jews in Judea.  The Samaritans were hated by the Jews, yet this Samaritan in his parable showed compassion.  I'll try and walk in his shoes in Compton.  Oh, and how will I answer the question of why am I there?  I'm here to help connect peoples hearts to God's.  It's that simple.

So the last two Sunday's I've made trips downtown.  They have been wonderful.  I saw some people I hadn't seen in years.  One was a woman named Rico.  It has been at least two or three years since I last saw her.  She was with Natalie down on 10th with some of the other gang that hangs out there.  I had made a big pot of pasta last week and taken it down there.  This was one street up from where the BBQ was in May.  Rico said she had been in and out of jail a couple of times.  I didn't ask why, I was just happy to see her.  I gave her a hug and told her that I thought of her often and wondered how she was doing. Then Natalie started telling her about some of our times together.  She surprised me with one of her stories.  You know on my way downtown I often pray that I will meet someone who is in desperate need of help.  I guess when you take food down for a dozen or so people there will be a few who are desperate, but it isn't always evident when I meet them.  You may remember the trip I made on Thanksgiving a couple of years ago.  It was the one where the pot of pasta slipped off the hood of my car, yet popped back upright miraculously and only about a serving spoon full of pasta spilled on the ground.  Well, Natalie said that she and Charlie (her boyfriend at the time) had no food or money that day and then I showed up!  It makes me wonder how many others have received help when they were in the same position and I didn't realize it.  There are a lot of times when I feel too tired after working all week to get up and get everything together and go.  Yet I always know there are people who will go to sleep that night hungry or cold or maybe just needing a friendly person to show interest in them and pray with them. Desperation comes in many forms. Ending human suffering is one of our primary goals as Christ followers, no matter how that suffering may be manifested in someone's life.

Here's a picture from yesterday's trip.  I feel particularly drawn to people I see like this on the street. All they have is right there in plain sight.  This man wasted no time in getting up and coming over to the car when I asked him if he was hungry.  I felt badly that I didn't have more blankets with me.  I took one with me and I had given it out already.  I'll look for this guy next time.  --Until then, John



Monday, May 30, 2016

Downtown 5/29/16

" Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall."  Psalm 55:23

I felt it was important to make a trip this weekend and go right back to where we had the BBQ last weekend.  For one thing I wanted any people I saw that were there a week ago to know that the BBQ wasn't just a one time thing for me.  I may have a BBQ only a couple of times a year, but them seeing me week after week makes an important point, that I'm dependable and always have their best interests at heart.  When they see me, and when they know why I continue to come down there, then it will re-enforce an understanding of the faithful God I serve.  You will be amazed at just how that played out Sunday.  But in addition to that, I wanted an opportunity to see and hopefully talk to the owner who refused to let me do the BBQ on his property last week.  I have been struggling with my initial emotions of being rejected by him.  Although I never expressed anger or resentment towards him outwardly, I did feel the sting of rejection.  So what does a Christian do with these feelings? Jesus taught us (in the Sermon on the Mount) to " your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  Each day we have an opportunity to do something to advance the kingdom of God. He had an opportunity that day and declined.  There have been times I have declined too!  Perhaps sometime in the future he will change his mind about allowing his property to be used this way. I kept thinking about the story in the book of Acts (chp 16) about the Philippian jailer.  Here was a rough, tough Roman soldier.  He saw the example of Paul and Silas in prison after they had been beaten and chained up.  Then after a catastrophic event took place that shook the jailer to his core beliefs, he asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved.  This occurred all in one night.  Talk about a turn- around!  If it happened once it could happen again.  However, I didn't see the man Sunday.  I've never seen him before and I may never again, but I hold out hope that I will not only see him again, but be about to talk to him about this too.  Luckily, I didn't leave our encounter with harsh words so the door should still be open to talk with him.

Anyway, Sunday I took another big pot of pasta with me and started down there at 9th and San Pedro again.  I saw Red and George from last week and a new guy by the name of "Honor", yeah, kind of an off-beat name.  I hung-out with them for a while and then went over to an alley under the I-10 freeway just west of San Pedro.  An old-timer by the name of James lives there and two or three others live there too.  They were all very happy to see me and loved the pasta (especially since it was still hot). James is very hard of hearing and under that freeway it's hard to hear much of what anyone says.  I had asked him how old he was and I thought he said 70, but I think maybe it was only 57.  He has a ZZ Top; kind of beard which makes him look older for sure. So they had all gotten a bowl of pasta and had looked through the back of the car for clothes.  James came back up to the car window and we were talking for a bit.  He asked me straight-up, "Why do you do this?"  It's opportunities like this that don't come around often enough and yet you live for them.  You try to keep the answer somewhat brief, but when he found out I do this because I have the love and spirit of Christ in my heart and a passion so serve he was overjoyed!!  That was pretty amazing. Now I have seen and helped this guy for at least 2 or 3 years. He lives right near where Antonio and Leticia live who I usually see pretty close to every week.  He has always been happy to see me and has said he loves what I do in coming down there.  Being regular and dependable counts for a lot.

I went around to a couple of other folks, Antonio and Leticia being two and Phllip a few blocks west on 16th near Los Angeles St. There were a few others near them that got the rest of the pasta. The pasta actually went pretty quickly, probably only the last bowl wasn't hot which is kind of rare.  I ended up by praying in front of the burned-out church.  Yes, I went there last week after the BBQ and prayed too.  That neighborhood and that church are always in my prayers. --Until next time.  John  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Downtown 5/22/16--BBQ Sunday

"In that day they will say, 'Surely this is our God: we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."  Isaiah 25:9

It's been a while since I last wrote about any of my trips.  I've gone every week, but just haven't had the time to write about them.  Last Sunday I had to work unexpectedly, and went down Monday evening instead.  I had been telling the folks living around the parking lot at San Pedro and 9th that I'd do a BBQ with them in the next couple of weeks.  When I got there Monday evening, they all were asking me if I was going to do it this weekend.  So I decided it was probably the best weekend to do it and I told them to go ahead and count on it.  I also have a family friend who was wanting to come with me, so today was the day. Interestingly enough, I had a co-worker who 'owed' me a day at work.  I had forgotten about it and when he asked what Saturday I wanted off, I decided to go with this Saturday, so I had an extra day to get ready.  As far as planning these things go, I was as ready for this day as I'd ever been, but something had me on edge and a little nervous about how it would all go down.

When you're on the front lines of war or ministry you never quite know what to expect, but you know one thing for sure, there will be conflict.  Today's BBQ was a battle on a couple of different fronts. We kept persevering and by the end of the day we were rewarded big time.

Conflict #1

We arrived at the location (which the homeless folks had told me would be 'no problem' on a Sunday afternoon.  I noticed there were more cars in the parking lots than I normally see at that time (2 pm), but as I pulled into the alley Edgar was there and greeted me.  He had a flag and was probably being the parking attendant there.  He told me that although no one was there now, they (our mutual friends) were all planning on coming.  Another guy I know was there and when I told him I was doing the BBQ, he said he would go get his friends and be back.  So Connor, my friend who went with me, and I drove around the block once just to see if there were any folks in the immediate area to let know we were about to get started and then drove back to the spot where we were going to set up.  We had just gotten everything set up and the BBQ started when the owner showed up and wanted to know what we were doing.  When I told him what we were doing he asked us to leave.  He tried to justify his position by telling me all the problems that the homeless folks cause around there and he didn't want them encouraged to continue to congregate there.  So we had no choice but to leave.  Red, one of the regular homeless folks there, said that a church group sets up across the street once a month and has people lined up around the block every time.  I'm not sure what they serve or how they do it, but I am a little uncomfortable having a BBQ on a public sidewalk because the police could shut you down for having an open flame on the sidewalk.  And....speaking of church groups, when I was there Monday evening there was a church group that had set up with 50 or so chairs there in that parking lot and they served food to the homeless too.  But I didn't argue with the guy, we just packed everything back in the car and went across the street and unpacked everything and set up on the sidewalk. Incidentally, this was the exact spot where I had a most memorable encounter two or three years ago with a man who had just gotten out of prison after being locked up for decades.  He kept asking me why I was being so nice to him.  I'll never forget that encounter.  But back to today's trip.

So it didn't take too long to get everything set up again and there were a couple of Latino men who where hanging around there when we got there.  They asked if we had food and we told them yes, but it would take thirty minutes or so for things to get ready.  I had rented some tables and chairs and offered them chairs to sit in while we got the food ready.  It turned out that these guys were friends of the original guy that went to get his friends when we first showed up across the street.  So very quickly we had four men waiting and 3 or 4 others who inquired what was going on and a little group had gathered and was waiting before anything was ready.  Well, the BBQ was already started and I started getting all the other stuff out.  I had bought 8 lbs of potato salad and four bags of chips and salsa.  I started dishing out the potato salad and when everyone there at that time got a bowlful I went looking for the chips and salsa.  That's when I realized I had left the four large bags of chips in the garage at home!! I had put them at the end of the garage right by the car while I loaded the last couple of chairs and an extra card table in the car.  I didn't want the chips to get crushed while I put those items in, so I was going to pack them in after these heavy items got loaded......and then I forgot them. This proved to be crucial to the next obstacle.

So the first guy sitting down is Edgar and the guy in the green shirt is the guy who was going to get his buddies.  The guy in the white T-shirt is the guy who translated my short talk/prayer for everyone who only understood Spanish.  More on that later.

Conflict #2

So you can see from the picture above, things started off calmly enough.  But soon there were a dozen more men there and I could only cook about 5 burgers at a time.  The potato salad helped initially, in fact, the guy in the white t-shirt was handing out the bowels as fast as I could fill them. Eight pounds of potato salad was gone in twenty minutes.  I've never run out of potato salad before. And now I was faced with no chips.  So I gave Conner some cash and he went with another man, not pictured, around the corner to a 7-11 type store and bought some chips and seasoning since I forgot that too.  I had brought some lettuce and cherry tomatoes (but forgot the salad dressing even though I was going to pick some up during the last trip to the store for ice).  I also had three large cans of baked beans, but they didn't get used until the hamburgers started coming off the grill.  So the problem was only being able to cook about five or six at a time.  I couldn't get them ready fast enough and two of the men, in particular, started getting unruly.  One of them slapped another man around a couple of times and I knew this guy and was totally surprised at his behavior.  The other man I didn't know, but he thought he was being passed over because of his race.  It was getting so ugly that one of the men came up with a number system since, "Some people aren't acting like gentlemen." It prove to be somewhat effective, but the real problem was just not being able to cook things fast enough.  Then some of the folks said they liked theirs medium rare so they could get theirs sooner.  I knew a few of the burgers simply weren't ready and with one guy I actually had to put his back on the grill after he tasted it!  Another guy said his wasn't ready either, but I guess he ate it anyway.  We had torn up a plate or something and wrote numbers from 1 to 10 on them and started giving them out.  It got pretty intense for a short time.  Eventually, everyone got theirs and the two men left (although one of them came back demanding he get the next one because he had a "situation").  When he didn't get the next one off the grill he left and didn't come back.  I didn't shed any tears over that.  So as things started to wind down and all the hamburgers (32 patties) were cooked, people still were drifting by.  I had twelve sausages left to cook and gave those out too.  The last three or so went to some of the guys who hung around until the end, I wanted to finish cooking everything and give it out, so they got a burger and a sausage or two.

The number system that proved to be somewhat effective.  There were two men who actually were quite helpful in keeping some of the other guys in line.  I think they knew them all well enough that they could get in their face a little and get away with it!!

So before we started giving out the burgers I paused everything for a few minutes and asked someone to interpret for me so everyone could understand.  The guy in the white t-shirt above volunteered. If you go to church services in December they generally follow a familiar pattern in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  There's the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth and their giving birth to John the Baptist.  Then there is the story of the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she's going to be pregnant and give birth to the Messiah, Jesus.  Then you have Mary going to visit Elizabeth and then the story of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and giving birth to Jesus and the Shepard's story.  Now I didn't go into that much detail, but stuck with Gabriel telling Mary she was going to give birth to the Messiah.  Her first response was, "How can this be for I have not known a man?"  And the angel's response was, "With God all things are possible."  So this was the point I wanted to make to these men, that whatever their "impossible" situation was, (like getting off the street) with God's help, "all things are possible".  I encouraged them to pray and talk to God about their "impossible situation".  I also reminded them that praying was not like putting something in a microwave oven and it being ready in a couple of minutes.. Things take time....the journey to the destination is as important as the destination sometimes.  I had hoped to get this on the video, but we didn't get it started in time and only got the end and the prayer.  I made a comment about wanting this to be a 'family time'. Sometimes what went on today was, unfortunately, just like some families.  Well, I tried multiple times to get the video loaded up here, but to no avail.  I'll keep trying, but for now you'll have to just imagine my short sermonette and prayer!!!

Well, I don't want you to think that the obstacles were greater than the triumph.  The end of the trip made everything worth it.  Almost everyone had left after the last of the food was gone except for the guys in the first picture (although I think Edgar was gone and the guy in the white T-shirt).  But the guy in the green shirt and the other two guys and another guy who was a friend of theirs stayed plus another guy who was helpful in keeping the others in line.  Well they helped us clean up and load up.  And these guys actually scrubbed the tables clean with us.  So when everything was loaded up I turned to them and thanked them for helping us load up and asked them to gather around so I could pray for them one more time.  I thanked the Lord for these men who stayed and helped us and asked that He provide specifically for these guys.  Here we were about seven or so of us gathered around with our arms around each others shoulders.  Then when I finished praying, the guy in the green shirt wanted to pray and he thanked the Lord for the food and us coming down there to serve them and then another guy prayed thanking the Lord (El Senor) for the food and the family atmosphere.  Now the guy in the green shirt actually got teary-eyed and got kind of choked-up when he prayed.  I was so proud of these men.  These were the few, the 'remnant' that God always keeps safe and protected.  It was a privilege to serve them and pray with them.  It made the trip worth far more that I could have imagined.  --Until next time.  John

The menu:
32 burgers and buns
12 sausages and buns
48 slices of cheese--we ran out after about 25 burgers
8 pounds of potato salad
3 pounds of lettuce and two small tubs of cherry tomatoes
3 twenty ounce cans of baked beans
1 jug of salsa
2 bags of chips (plus the 4 I forgot at home)
6 two liter bottles of soda
24 bottles of water

Sounds like a regular family backyard BBQ huh?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Downtown 4/10/2016

"Our Lord, the nations will honor you, and all kings on earth will praise your glory.  You will rebuild the city of Zion.  Your glory will be seen and the prayers of the homeless will be answered." Psalm 102:1517

It has been raining (sort of a light-drizzly rain) here in Southern California the last couple of days. Although it hasn't been 'real' cold, it hasn't been warm either and I felt the people I'll meet would really appreciate a hot meal.  So I made another big pot of pasta and meatballs.  I hadn't done that since Christmas day almost four months ago.  Interestingly enough, one of the memorable encounters of that day I met again yesterday.  If you read the blog from Christmas day, you might remember the woman, Natalie was her name, that I gave the heavy jacket to as I was leaving.  Christmas day was very very cold and windy here in Los Angeles even though the sun was out.  She was wrapped up in a blanket the whole time and I asked her if she had a jacket.  She told me she had a sweater (probably was wearing it under the blanket).  I had set aside a nice heavy warm jacket and kept it up in the front of the car with me.  I wanted to be able to give it to someone who really needed it that day and if I left it in the back of the car someone might see it and take it just because it was a better one than the one they had on. So I waited until I found the person with the greatest need.  That turned out to be Natalie.  She had told me she was from Central America and had no family here in America.  And here she is homeless and freezing (and hungry) and on Christmas day at that.  Anyway, after she told me she had a sweater, but no jacket I gave the nice jacket I had to her and said, "Then this is for you." She said thank you and then said, "I'll always remember this."  It was a heartbreaking situation to witness, but I was thankful that I was able to help.  Well, when I saw her and her husband, Charlie, yesterday they were living in an alley right near where I saw them on Christmas.  Each end of the alley had a chained-up gate so I couldn't get my car in there.  I pulled up as close as I could and they came and met me.  They told me they could get out on the other end, but I couldn't find a way to get the car in there.  So I handed clothes and food through the openings in the fence.  I stayed with them for a while talking and at one point Natalie said, "Remember that jacket you gave me?"  I told her I did indeed remember it.  She then told me that she was sleeping one night and while she wasn't wearing it, she had it over her like a blanket and someone came by and stole it.  I had about three or four jackets in the car and gave her another one.  The jackets weren't as warm as the one I gave her on Christmas, but at least the weather isn't as cold as it was that day either.  Some other men came by on the street while I was parked there and I gave out quite a few clothes and served up a few more meals.  I prayed with Natalie and Charlie through the fence and told them I'd start looking for them down there when I come back the next time.  On the other side of the block was the parking lot where they used to live.  I had stopped there right before seeing them and found Shorty and Red there.  So by the time I left that area, (there were a couple other guys I helped on another side street nearby) I had given out about 80% of the clothes I had. Here is the picture I posted of Natalie and Charlie from Christmas Day.

Another stop I made was off 16th and San Pedro.  It's under the I-10 freeway and the last couple of weeks I've driven by and helped a couple of men who camp out there.  One of the men is usually sleeping and I don't get to talk to him much, but yesterday he was awake and some others were there so I parked and got out and opened up the back so they could look through the clothes. The one man who is usually sleeping was so happy to see me and said he loves that I come down there and help people like him out.  He even gave me a hug.  At one point when there were several people going through the clothes in the back there was a bit of an argument over who was to get a heavy sweater. This guy asked me to referee.  It was between him and a woman.  I told him to "Cut her a break and I'll bring you another one next week."  It immediately defused the situation.    

One last encounter that I'd like to tell you about happened last week.  I didn't get a chance to write about last week's trip, but there was one encounter that has stayed with me.  A few weeks ago I told you about helping a homeless man by the name of Alan.  I described him as "looking very homeless" with his matted hair, full beard and clothes that he's probably worn for the last couple of years.  He also is a man of few words....very few words.  Anyway, a few weeks back when I saw him I gave him a sandwich and he dropped everything he had in his hands and started eating it right then.  It was humbling to see someone so desperately hungry.  So last week when I was down there I specifically went looking for Allan from the start.  I drove up and down 9th/Olympic and couldn't find him.  I went passed Alameda Street on Olympic and pretty much gave up trying to find him.  I turned around and started to drive south on Alameda and within 100 yards or so there he was walking up the side-walk with some sticks in his arms.  I have no idea what the sticks were for.  I gave him two sandwiches that day just to make sure he had enough to eat for the rest of the day.  When I asked him if he needed a pair of socks he said "OK".  I've never heard him say that before, only "Yeah." and nod his head from time to time.  There have been many times when people have been happy to see me downtown, this was truly one of those times when I was especially happy to see someone myself.

Until next time.  John  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Downtown 3/20/2016

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:  I lift my lamp beside the golden door."  --Emma Lazarus,  quoted on the statue of liberty"

Blessed be daylight savings time!  The last two weeks have been a lot easier because of the time change, in fact, I have left to come home with it still being light out.  I just ran out of time last week to write about the trip, so I'll do what I did the last time and write about both last week and this week.

Let me start with last week's trip and admit that nothing memorable, that I can remember, happened. But something happened that night when I got home and the next morning that impacted my understanding of the trip (and all of them for that matter) that I'd like to share.  I had given out a dozen sandwiches and at least four blankets and jackets and sweaters.  Pretty much the usual stuff I see on these trips and meeting the needs of the people I saw.  Since I've done this so many times I tend to forget how much it can impact the people on the receiving end.  Most all the blankets were given out in the alley off 25th and San Pedro where a group of people were hanging out.  They picked through the clothes pretty well and after I left them I finished the trip by helping mostly single people here and there who were alone.  So I got home and after a couple of hours was ready to go to bed.  My wife needed a few minutes to put the clean sheets and stuff back on our bed.  We have a new puppy in the house and he can get under foot just like a toddler.  He has a tendency also to nip at your feet.  So I volunteered to take him outside in the backyard and wait with him while my wife got the bed ready (there's coyotes out at night around here).  It was now cold out so I put on a heavy jacket and went outside with Buster.  We were only out there for 10 minutes max, but I started thinking about the folks I had just seen downtown who were spending the night on the sidewalks and in the alleys with little comforts.  I had a fairly heavy jacket on, but if I was spending the whole night outside and trying to sleep, it wouldn't have been enough. No doubt about it, I would have been miserable and sleeping very long would have been difficult at best.  The story doesn't end there though. because the next morning I had to make a trip to a recycler in Pomona.  As I left the recycler, I saw what appeared to be a homeless man sitting on a curb on Mission Blvd.  It looked like he had slipped off the curb (while sitting) and was readjusting himself back on the edge of the curb.  He had a big smile on his face and the 'look' of being intoxicated.  It was somewhere between 8:30 and 9 am.  I thought, "Wow, he probably was drinking just to get through the cold night!".  There are many people who live in nice homes who drink or use drugs to get through their nights trying to medicate their way through whatever pain they are feeling in their life.  The homeless are no different.  They probably don't have $20 for a warm blanket, but they may be able to come up with $2 or $5 for something to dull the pain of cold air.  No, I'm not condoning the action for either, but its far easier to understand for someone cold on the sidewalk at night.

OK, yesterday's trip.  There were two memorable encounters that will always stay with me.  I drove to the burned-out church first to pray and then went on over to the alley by 25th and San Pedro.  There were only three people there this week, Becky and a couple of other men, one I see there all the time and the other man I'm not sure I recognized.  I didn't take any blankets with me this time (I want to make sure my supply lasts a couple of more months at least), but I did take several sweaters and a couple of jackets and a lot of shirts.  It is supposed to warm up this week and perhaps reach the 80's by the end of the week.  I had opened up the back of the car and Becky and the man I knew were going through it.  Finally, the other guy saw that there were clothes they were getting so he gets up and comes over.  He and Becky had been sitting together when I drove up and had some shopping carts in front of them.  I figured out the man was smoking drugs behind that barricade.  A few minutes later when he was by my car I asked him what his name was. He said he goes by the name of "Wash".  He was thanking me for the clothes when I asked him if I could pray for him.  Initially, he declined saying he "just wasn't right" right then.  I understood what he was getting at.  There are times when we all are estranged from God.  Whether its over something we're doing or not doing, thinking or feeling, we can feel the 'distance' between ourselves and God and his desire for our lives. Well by now, you probably know me well enough that his 'no' wasn't going to stop me from praying for him.  To be sure, he probably still felt uncomfortable, but when I prayed I asked for Jesus to 'help' him see God's higher purpose and will for his life and I said nothing about "help him stop doing drugs".  It was short and to the point, encouraging and not condemning.  As I always say about times like this, it was a privilege to pray for him.  I've always prayed about being a light in a dark place and that alley is a dark place.  When I drove up I saw several lighters on the ground.  This is the alley where Billy died just a few weeks ago.  Drug abuse is prevalent, not with everyone, but with a lot of people around there.

So after I left there I drove around quite a bit looking for people to help, but one man I helped is an old friend of mine.  I've seen him off an on for probably 5 years down there.  His name is Allan and he is easily the most pitiful man I see down there.  He is the picture of homelessness.  He is small, with a full beard and matted hair.  The clothes he wears he's probably had on for a couple of years. He never talks and the most I get out of him when I see him is a smile when he see's me and if I'm lucky a "Yeah".  That's the most he'll ever say at one time.  Obviously, there is an element of mental illness here.  I usually see Alan around Olympic and Central near a MacDonald's on the corner.  He will have a shopping cart that's overloaded with a high mound of 'stuff''.  I'll be driving by and see him pushing his cart in the middle of Olympic and call out his name and hold out a burger or something. When he comes over I'll ask him if he wants some water and that's when he'll say "Yeah".  It's always a quick drive-by encounter because he's usually on the move in the middle of the street.  Yesterday was no exception except he was more downtown on 9th.  Instead of a big overstuffed shopping cart he had one of those small two-wheeled carts that you see older women taking to the grocery store. He was dragging it with both hands behind him.  His head was down and the hair from his beard and head was covering his face, but I recognized him anyway.  I had to circle back around to catch up to him and when I did I handed him a sandwich and a bottle of water through the window.  I told him I loved him.  As I drove away he immediately walked over to the sidewalk leaving the cart in the street. There was some sort of a table on the sidewalk where he started unwrapping the sandwich.  Apparently, he was so hungry nothing else mattered.  After driving away I couldn't get this encounter off my mind and drove back looking for Alan so I could give him some more food, but unfortunately, I couldn't locate him again.  It was a heartbreak.  I'll have to do better the next time I see him.  --Until then.  John      

Monday, February 29, 2016

Downtown 2/28/2016

"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  ---1 Corinthians 13:2-8a.

Sorry its taken so long to make a blog entry, but I've had to work an extra day or two for four weeks in a row.  I've made trips the last three weekends, but its been difficult with limited time after working the extra days to write one.  This weekend was the first full weekend in a while, so I'll try and give a quick recap of the highlights of the last three trips.

I had a memorable encounter three weekends ago with a young man named Jason.  He was on a side- walk just east of Los Angeles St and Venice.  We must have talked for forty minutes.  I had asked him if he was hungry when I drove up and when he came over to the car I ended up praying for him through the car window. During the prayer he asked if I would get out and "do this right".  I'm sure he was lonesome for someone to talk to who wasn't asking for anything in return.  He was recently unemployed, but had been employed for a while.  However, his employer was very difficult to get along with and he finally had had enough. With no back-up support system (ie. family) here he was on the street.  He had a girl friend and got along well with her and her family, but since he was unemployed he felt very insecure and inadequate being around them.  Where he was when I saw him was just south of the garment district. I wouldn't have thought of the garment district as being very dangerous, but he told me he had been accosted two or three times walking through there so he walked around it now. Incidentally, that is the area where he had worked.  We talked about his work situation, his girl friend and her family and even the knife wounds he suffered.  We must have prayed three different times about different issues. One of the things he asked me about was drug use.  It seems there were several people he is acquainted with who asked him to participate with them in using drugs and when he refused he was considered "condescending".  I told him wasn't being condescending, it was a display of "character" instead.  Substance abuse is a very subtle trap and my advice was to stay away from it at all costs.  In the end, I told Jason I come down here generally every Sunday evening and I'll look for him if he's in this same spot.  He told me he would be here if he isn't in San Diego.  I think that's where his girl friend and her family live.  Anyway, that's the way we left it.  I promised I'd be back the next Sunday.

The next Sunday when I got off the freeway at Los Angeles St I saw a homeless man digging through the trash cans at the corner of Los Angeles and Venice.  Instead of turning east on Venice I drove on through the intersection on Los Angeles St and called out to him when I got to the corner across the street.  "Hey are you hungry?" He said yes, but as he answered me he recognized me.  I told him to wait there and I'd drive around the block and come back to him.  It turns out it was a man named Gary who I knew and helped many times about three years ago when he was living in an alley behind the auto parts store down the street on Washington Blvd.  It was pure joy to see him again because I had often wondered what happened to him many times in the last three years.  He told me he was living on 17th just east of San Pedro Blvd.  There are a lot of folks living on that street now, but by the time I get there, they are usually in their make-shift homes for the night.  We got caught up on the last three years, he had just gotten over a bout with pneumonia that had him in the hospital for a month.  He had his shopping cart and had been recycling all day, it was now time to get over to the recycler by the Jack in the Box on Alameda before they closed.  I gave him a couple of sandwiches and water, some clothes and a blanket.  As we talked we heard a car coming down the street east on Venice.  It was making a lot of noise that turned out to be a flat tire.  It was the Honda version of a Bronco.  The man driving the car pulled into the drive-way where we were standing and talking.  He parked close by and when he got out he asked if I had a jack.  I got one out of the back of my car along with the T-bar to undo the lug nuts.  Gary was lobbying to change the tire for the man to earn a couple of dollars, but the man said he didn't have any money to give him.  Well, Gary was still needing to get to the recycler before it closed at 7 pm (it was now 5:15 pm) so he took-off and I was left with the man with the flat tire and his family.  His wife and mother and two you girls were with him.  The jack I had given him got the car up high enough to get the flat off, but not high enough to get the spare on.  I looked around the alley for something to put under the jack to get it to go higher, but thought I'd look in my car for something else to use.  It turned out that I had another jack, the second one was the one for my car and the first one was an extra one I had gotten for another car a long time ago.  So he was able to use the second jack to get the actual wheel up high enough to get the spare on it.  The only problem was, when he lowered the car down the weight of the car was too much for the spare.  There wasn't enough air pressure in the spare to handle it and it was essentially flat when he removed the two jacks.  Luckily, I had one of those tire inflators that plug into a cigarette lighter.  So another fifteen minutes or so and the tire was inflated to it's proper level. During all this time we talked.  I had noticed that they were kind of dressed up and he told me they had just gotten out of church.  They lived in Santa Ana.  I told them how I knew Gary and that I came down here to help minster to the homeless folks in the area.  I told them a couple of stories about my experiences down there.  One of which involved helping a young Latino man a few years ago named Alex not too far from where we were right then. I told them that there was something about him that compelled me to try and find a way to get him off the street.  Maybe it was because my son's name is Alex and that they were the same age, maybe it was that he had a Spanish language bible that he actually read or that he just seemed like a nice kid that needed a break to get off the streets quickly, I don't know, but I wanted to help him.  Anyway, it led me to go to the Dream Center to try and get some help and on the way there I passed by 7th and Alvarado and witnessed a big gang street fight. This image of the street fight stayed in my mind for a week and after praying about what God would want me to do about it I felt led to go back down there and start prayer-walking in MacArthur Park which eventually led to me preaching with some other evangelists in the park.  Oh, and by the way, I did get a Spanish speaking contact for Alex and gave it to him the next week.  After that, I never saw him again.  So after telling these stories to them while we waited for the tire to inflate this man said that there was a free seminary that I might be interested to go to.  We exchanged phone numbers and names.  So guess what his name was??? Yeah, it was Alex!!!  Before we all drove our separate ways, I gathered his family around and I prayed for them.  It was special.  You know when I think about that whole sequence of events, how if it wasn't for Gary being there, I wouldn't have been there.  If I hadn't been there to supply the jack and the tire inflator, this man and his family would have been stuck there as the sun was going down with no Triple A and no way to replace the tire.  If I hadn't made a promise to Jason the week before that I would be there, I probably wouldn't have gone downtown because I was really tired and had to go to work early the next morning.  God is good. Turned out, Jason wasn't there and I haven't seen him since.

Yesterday's trip was somewhat uneventful.  I got down there just about the time the sun went down, so there wasn't a lot of daylight left.  I'm looking forward to March 13th and the start of daylight savings time.  I went straight to where Don and Kia lived about a month ago under the freeway by the Alameda exit. Neither of them are living there anymore, Dave was there, but he keeps to himself all the time and doesn't know the people living across the street from him.  I met a man name Sergio there and he told me that Don and Kia had moved on. I got to pray with him.  He thought Don was over by 6th and Towne now.  When I ended the night's trip I was at the parking lot at San Pedro and 9th.  This is where I ended up on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the new owners of the lot have kicked all the homeless folks out. But Sunday I saw Red and some of the others there one more time in an alley next to the parking lot.  I had heard that Shorty had gone to Detroit, but apparently, he's back.  Red says he's getting an SRO this week and should be off the streets for good in a couple of days.  He also told me that 3 of the folks living around there that I've known and helped have died. Mostly overdoses or mixtures of drugs and alcohol.  I had made a dozen sandwiches to take down Sunday. Of the dozen people who received them, its hard to know how desperate they were for food. I do know they all got eaten, so there had to be a few who wouldn't have eaten anything if I hadn't made the trip.

Well, those are the highlights from the last three weeks.  One more weekend before daylight savings time.  That will help out a lot.  It's hard to get up after 4 hours of sleep and get things ready to make a trip before the sun goes down.  I'll take all the help I can get with daylight savings time.  --Until next time.  John    
Alex changing the tire-with the second jack.He had taken his 'good' shirt off.

Gary on Venice St

Leticia and Antonio--Taken the same day as the others...I just like this photo of them