Monday, April 2, 2018

Downtown Easter Sunday, 4/1/2018

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let the patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him, but let him ask in faith..."  "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."  James 1:2-6a and 5:16b

The story behind this week's trip began at the end of last week's trip when I promised a group of homeless folks that I'd stop to see them first this week and bring blankets.  I had brought blankets on that trip, but they are usually gone by the 1st or 2nd stop.  I try my best to keep my promises to these folks because I know they count on it greatly and I know many others have not followed through with promises in their past before....but it wasn't easy to keep this promise.

This last week I learned of a close friend landing in the hospital due to liver and kidney failure.  Then the next day my car broke down.  Luckily, for a while I have an extra car to drive, but the other one will have to be replaced quickly.  It's too old and costly to fix all the things wrong with it now (the car's not worth that much).  While visiting my friend in the hospital I was able to remind her that this Sunday was Easter and that all our sins were paid for on the cross by Jesus and that the peace that we seek is found in the presence of Jesus and his Holy Spirit.  I tried to keep the message as brief and clear as possible because my friend is unable to speak coherently at this point so I don't know to what extent the ability to understand is either.  So I simply said, "Keep seeking the peace that Jesus gives.  When you get troubled, seek Jesus and His peace."  This situation weighed heavily on me all week and was further complicated with the car trouble issues.  The car was repaired up to a point, but the service light and the ABS light are still on. So when Sunday came along and it was time to make the trip downtown I loaded up that car, but only made it a few miles down the road when the instrument panel lights started going haywire and the temperature gauge showed all the way over to the red zone.  Yet the car wasn't smoking and I checked the water levels and they were fine.  So I drove it back home and made if just fine and then transferred the stuff into the extra car and started out again.

Now keep in mind this is Easter Sunday and you usually have a family gathering somewhere to go to. The thought crossed my mind to just not go, but I had made a dozen sandwiches, had blankets, towels and  clothes, and I was determined to make it down there.  On the way down there I got really hungry and thought about eating one of the sandwiches, but held off from doing so.  I had this one place on 10th St and San Pedro to go to first, so I drove by there.  I saw a couple of guys sitting on the street corner and some others halfway down the street so I knew most everyone was going to be there.  I drove around the block so I could pull in on the side of the street where they were.   When I pulled up I was expecting to see the people from last week but another man was standing there.  He leaned over to look into the car and asked, "Are you the pastor?"  I told him I was and he said they were just talking about me and had been expecting me.  He stood up and called down to the guys on the corner and said, "Hey Chris, the pastor is here."  He leaned back down to talk to me.  I asked him how he was doing and he told me the trial for the guy that murdered his son was over and finally he had some closure on it.  I told him about my son's situation and we both immediately had a deep connection.  I got out of the car and by this point Chris (who is in a wheel-chair) was almost to the car.  He said, "Hey pastor we were just talking about you and were wondering where you were."  I said, "You know I promised to come here first and do you remember why?"  He said something about me bringing food, but I reminded him that I promised to bring blankets.  So now I'm handing out the blankets and the sandwiches.  The trunk of the car is open and people are going through the clothes in there.  Brigette (the pregnant woman from last week) and Ray (I referred to him as Don Juan last week) were there and Red came by too.  Another man with a Dallas Cowboy cap was there, he goes by the name of "Dallas".  Brigette is trying to get off the street.  We had a chance to talk briefly together and I warned her about being on the street with a child and she was well aware of the potential for losing the child to protective services.  She was hopeful to find a place very soon.  Please pray for her and her baby.  I talked with most all of them one on one briefly and then said, "Well, you all know what day today is right?"  And they knew it was Easter Sunday.  It was a heaven-gifted opportunity to give a word of encouragement and prayer and they were all eager to receive it.  I started out by talking briefly about my friend in the hospital and how Jesus had paid for our sins on Easter and overcame death.  I know that life is complicated and troubling for everyone and that the peace they seek can be found in the presence of Jesus. I encouraged them to keep seeking His presence.  They all know my story and my hardships and I know theirs.  We all seek the peace that surpasses all understanding.  I gathered them all around me and started praying for them.  Almost immediately I started feeling very emotional and had trouble finishing the prayer.  When I did I think they were all in tears too.  I received a hug from just about everyone there and Chris in the wheelchair was one of the people next to me. He kissed my hand and told me he was so glad I come down there.  It was a very emotional moment for all of us.  A few minutes later I gathered those that were left together and took their picture.

From left to right: Michael, the guy whose son was murdered (I forgot his name, Ray, Brigette, Dallas and Chris (he stood for the photo).  Ray and Brigette live in the tent behind them.

So just before I left, I think I had taken the picture by this point, but it was definitely after I had prayed with them that one man came walking down the street by himself.  He asked if I had a blanket, but I didn't have any left.  I asked him if he was hungry.  He said he was and I looked around for the bag of sandwiches.  Some one had put it back in my car.  I asked if they were all gone, but someone said there was one left.  When I picked up the bag it felt empty, but sure enough there was one left.  Remember the one I didn't eat on the way down there?????  This man ended up with it.  Praise the Lord.  It all worked out perfectly. --Until next time.  John

PS.  On the way home I was again overcome by the feeling that this had been a point of grace for all the people there.  We all felt it.  We will all remember it for a very long time.  It would have been easy after the car had acted up on me to just say forget it and it wasn't meant to be today.  Am I glad I persevered and continued on!  Look at what would have been missed.   

Monday, March 26, 2018

Downtown Sunday 3/25/2018

"Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him.  With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles."  And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.  2 Chronicles 32:7-8  

It had been a month or so since my last trip.  I've switched back to working days for the next four months and with daylight-savings time it is much easier on me physically to make these trips now. I was really looking forward to this one, knowing I would have plenty of daylight.  Before I left, my wife asked what she should be praying for and I said pray for divine encounters and that I would meet people that really needed to hear a word from God and be able to reconnect with my friends down there.

With the lack of extended daylight hours, the last few trips I've made I've had to make the difficult choice on not going into Compton because it would lengthen the trip too much.  I don't mind being down there after dark, but it's a lot harder to find people out and about at that time.  They are usually under covers for the night soon after the sun goes down.  But on this trip I wasn't going to have that problem so I started off in Compton at a spot near Imperial and Central that I'd been going to a while back.  When I got there all the homeless people were gone!  There were probably 8-10 people living there, most of them behind a fence behind a gas station with 2-3 more living on a side-street adjacent to the gas station.  But now there's no one there.  Then I saw what had happened.  The gas station had closed and had a chain-link fence set up around its perimeter.  No doubt, the new management company had the homeless people run-off. I drove around some of the streets nearby hoping to find a place where they possibly relocated to, but to no avail.  I had no choice but to head on towards downtown.

I didn't see any accessible people to help on the drive up Central Ave and finally ended up stopping at the burned-out church just off 27th and Central.  No changes yet, but I'll keep praying for Pastor Magee and his church until something does change.  I drove on over to San Pedro Ave and up to 25th. There on the street corner I put on a lasagna dinner for folks one afternoon a few years back.  There hasn't been anyone living on that sidewalk in a long time, but there were a lot of folks living in the first alley north of there.  They too had been run-off a long time ago, but as I slowly drove by I noticed some people have started living there again.  I drove around the block and entered from the other side and came on through.  The first guy living there was Andrew and then a woman who I kind of recognized started walking towards me.  She recognized me right away, then I saw Pete there who I've known for several years now.  He told me he had had a heart attack since I saw him last.  During his time in the hospital he reconnected with his son whom he hadn't seen in 34 years!  I think I understood him to say his son is the pastor of a church a few miles away.  Well, I gave out clothes, a couple of blankets, food and had group prayer with these three.  It was wonderful.  But I was just getting started.

I drove on up San Pedro and turned down 10th Place.  There were a couple of homeless men on this street.  Both of these men were pretty good size and were hungry.  I gave them extra sandwiches (a total of 5 between the two of them-Derek got three) and prayed with both of them.  They also both needed warm clothing and I had some long sleeve shirts and a couple of jackets.  They asked for blankets too, but I had given out the only ones I had at the last stop. I drove around to the other side of the block.  This is 10th St.  There on that street were four old friends, well three anyway.  There was a new woman there, her name was Brigette and she was very pregnant.  Well, the three of them started telling her about me and simply referred to me as Pastor and that I was family.  I was kind of bummed out because there were four of them and I only had three sandwiches left.  Somehow, no one complained.  They asked for blankets too, but I had given them all out at the first stop.  I ended up promising to stop there first next week and giving them blankets then.  I did give out several tarps which they greatly appreciated and let them go through the clothes in the back of the car.  So they all gathered around when I prayed for them and locked arms around shoulders (it was a very special moment).  So I'm not sure how it happened that I ended up standing with Brigette and her man.  Now this is the guy in the picture from the last blog who was with Bree.  You may recall she had been pregnant I assumed with him and had lost her baby and asked me to pray especially for her situation.  I don't know, but I assumed at the time she had a miscarriage. So now Don Juan (I don't know his name for sure) has a new woman and she's pregnant.  So he's pointing to her pregnant belly and with pride telling me he's very happy.  I step towards Brigette and place my hand on her belly and start praying a special blessing for this child.  When I finished I opened my eyes and he was crying.  He tells Brigette, "This is why he's Pastor John".  It was a good trip.  God is faithful.  I reconnected.  --Until next time.  John

PS.  So I started this blog with an old testament story about king Hezekiah and the imminent military threat from the Assyrian army led by Sennacharib.  It was like David facing Goliath.  The odds were overwhelming.  Well, just like those people in that day, we face issues with overwhelming odds against us.  You could be homeless or not homeless, but life presents us with situations that are overwhelming at times.  The cornerstone of faith begins with prayer and believing in our God, who is Lord over the impossible, to take charge over our impossible situation.  Begin today.  Pray for the impossible.  --John      


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Downtown 1/28/18

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound."  Isaiah 61:1, also quoted by Jesus as he began his public ministry (Luke 4:16-18a)

I sometimes forget how important the praying part of this ministry is.  Particularly, in regards to encouraging people who are brokenhearted.  With the pressing demands of hunger and especially the cold weather at this time of the year, I sometimes forget that people on the street can also be emotionally brokenhearted for a number of reasons.  More about this later....

On the way downtown I started thinking about an encounter I had several years back at about 5th St and maybe Los Angeles or Main St.  I don't remember the guy's name, but I had just helped a couple of people on 5th, but couldn't stay there very long and had pulled around the corner to park.  I think one of the people from 5th followed me there so I could finish giving him whatever it was I had to give him.  While parked there I remember several people had bedded down for the night (sun was down but it was still light out) in a small open area a few steps above the sidewalk right adjacent to where I had parked.  A man somewhere in his late 30's or early 40's lifted his head up and saw me.  I think I probably called out to him asking if he was hungry.  He came over to the car and I probably gave him some food and asked if he needed any socks of something.  He must have said yes because I had gotten out of the car and remember standing with him behind the trunk of the car I had at the time.  I remember giving him a blanket or two and some socks and warm clothing.  He told me he was with his mother and they were now homeless.  I remember praying with him and saying, "the man who walked on water will walk with you through this difficult time now".  When I said that he laid his head on my shoulder.  It was a very moving moment.  I've had many memorable reactions to prayer time with folks living on the street.  Last Sunday I had one similar to this.  It humbles me every time I am able to speak for God directly to someones heart and reawaken their yearning to know Him.  Well I decided to head straight down to this area and see if I could find this spot that people were using to sleep at night as it was now getting close the sundown too.  I got off the 101 freeway at 4th to make my way across town.  As I got off the freeway there was a man standing there looking for handouts from the people getting off the freeway.  I gave him the first sandwich.  I drove across town on 4th until I got to Main St.  I drove around the area for a while, but never did see the area I remembered.  After about 15 or 20 minutes of cruising the area without success I figured I better start going to the places I knew I would be seeing folks.  I headed over to 10th and San Pedro lamenting the time I spent without finding the "spot" I was looking for.  

When I got to 10th St I found a few people I knew there.  Chris was there and although I didn't see Debbie, she was there in their make-shift tent.  Another couple, her name is Bree (not sure what his name is) were there also, but in their car.  I found out later that if they wanted to drive somewhere they have to jump start the battery.  Anyway, 4 of the 5 blankets I had and the two pillows went quickly.  I handed out sandwiches and tarps and found out that Red was asleep on the sidewalk across the street.  I walked over and put a tarp in his cart because he asked for one after I had given out all that I had the last time down.  I hoped it was still in his cart when he woke up.  I had four bags of various articles in them and handed them out too.  Bree ended up going through the women's clothes in the back of the car and when she was through I asked to pray for her and her husband before I left.  Chris and Debbie were already back in their tent by now.  So before I could even begin praying, Bree asked if I would pray for her because she just lost her baby.  She didn't say how, I'm assuming now that she had a miscarriage, but I don't know for sure.  Somehow I was not thinking miscarriage at the time, but the death of an infant.  I still really don't know and she didn't tell me.  Anyway, I started praying and thanking God that we know this baby is in the arms of Jesus now and is safe and one day we will see her (yes I said her not knowing the gender of the baby either).  When I finished I could tell that they were both visible moved (I think he was fighting back tears in his eyes) and thankful for me praying. I know losing a baby is such a heartbreak and I remembered a story I read from some missionaries running an orphanage in Africa that I shared with them.  I looked around the house for the book I read this story in so I could quote it, but I couldn't find the book so I'll have to go on my best recollection of how it went.  These missionaries had started accumulating a fairly large group of children of varying ages.  Many children were living at the local trash dump and some children and particularly infants are brought to them because the parents have died.  A lot of children are homeless because of the aids epidemic in Africa.  At one point over a 10 or 12 day period 8 infants died.  The woman missionary, Heidi Baker, was devastated and cried out to God asking "Why has this happened?"  The answer she received was, "All I ask you to do is to love these children into my arms."  It was an answer that didn't answer the question of "why", but gave her a specific task and mindset.  It helped and got her focusing on loving the children as they came to her and not focusing on her personal pain.  It occurred to me after reading the story in their book, that this is what we are to do with everyone we meet.  Love them into the arms of Jesus for as long as we are with them, infants to adults.  It's not complicated. 

                         Bree and husband and their car. 

            Remember you can click on the image to enlarge    

Well, shortly after this I continued on the trip.  I found another group of people on another small street off the 10 frwy and Los Angeles St.  I drove over to the burned out church at 27th and Peloma and prayed in front of it and gave out the last of the food.  By now it was completely dark out and hard to find homeless people who were still walking around.  Most have found a place to bed down for the night. 

I began this blog with a verse from Isaiah.  It was quoted by Jesus in Nazareth in the local synagogue as he began his earthly ministry.  Part of Jesus' ministry was to heal the broken-hearted.  His Spirit still heals today.  In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount he proclaims, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  His Spirit still lives today.  Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.  --Until next time. John                 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Eve downtown-12/24/2017

"Moses and Aaron, together with Nadab and Abihu (Aaron's sons) and the seventy leaders, went up the mountain and saw the God of Israel.  Under his feet was something that looked like a pavement made out of sapphire, and it was as bright as the sky.  Even though these leaders of Israel saw God, he did not punish them.  So they ate and drank."  Exodus 24:9-11--This was immediately after God had ratified his agreement with the children of Israel at Mt Sinai.

Well, where do I begin with this blog?  This is only my seventh blog of the year (although I've made a lot more trips than that) and most likely my last  blog for the year.  I usually try and make a special trip on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This year on Thanksgiving I had gotten up very early and started preparing food to take, but starting feeling dizzy and nauseous and ended up in the hospital for a day and a half.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I didn't make a trip due to health issues and schedule problems (I'm back working nights for the next 4 months).  So if I want to make a trip on a Sunday, I can only sleep about 3 1/2 to 4 hours and then wake up and get ready....quickly, before the sun goes down.  Since this Christmas fell on a Monday and I was going to be stretched pretty thin getting around to all the family gatherings, I decided to try and make the trip on Sunday, Christmas Eve instead.  There are a few extra obstacles these days with making a big pot of pasta to take with me.  Back in June I was about to start making some to take downtown when the electric stove quit working.  It was a little more involved than that, but essentially I have no working stove or oven.  I have one electric burner, a microwave and a crock pot.  We have a big crock pot and a smaller crock pot.  My wife was using the big one for something else.  The crock pot is what I use to make the sauce.  The small crock pot isn't big enough to hold everything.  Now you ladies will be able to relate to preparing a meal for company and trying to get everything "ready and hot" at the same time and on the table.  I'm trying to get them all hot at once and in the big pot I take at the same time.  So the car has to be ready and loaded with all the other stuff I take (blankets, clothes and shoes) as well as the bowls, spoons and water etc.  It's a job coordinating everything all by itself and I'm not as physically capable as I used to be.  Anyway, I got it all together and left at about 3:30-3:45 pm.  I hadn't gotten too far down the road before I realized I forgot my phone.  It was too late to go back, but also this means no pictures now ( a huge bummer).  I'm almost into Los Angeles when the freeway comes to a complete stop!  Time is ticking away and this food isn't going to stay hot forever.  After about 10 minutes of being stopped people started making their way to the Whittier/Lorena off-ramp on the 60 right before the 10/101/5 split.  Eventually, I was able to get over from the second lane from the left and get off the freeway like everyone else was doing.  So now I had to make the rest of the way via surface streets.  One thing about gives you a chance to get prayed up before things start.  So I had been praying and asking God to bring people together at 10th St and San Pedro and prepare their hearts.  This is a spot I've served people many times in the last 3 or 4 years.  I had a most memorable encounter with a woman named Natalie a couple of Christmas's ago who needed a jacket.  So here's what happened this time.

As I pulled onto 10th St I saw about 4-5 people on the south side of the street.  I didn't recognize these people and sometimes there are people standing around there from the businesses on that street and they aren't homeless.  But on the other side of the street I saw "my people".  There were about eight people on the sidewalk and in two cars parked at the curb.  Red, Debbie and Chris were there, a couple living in a van that I had met the last time I was down there and a couple of other folks who I recognized, but didn't remember their names.  As I slowly drove up I called out to them and pulled on down the street and turned around so I could park on their side.  It's hard to put into words how incredible the Spirit of the Lord was at this time.  Needless to say I felt very welcomed.  The Lord had prepared their hearts for my visit.  Those of you who live in the Southern California area know how cold for us it has been here in the last 10 days or so.  I had 7 blankets with me.  Before I even said anything about food they were asking for the blankets.  I asked Chris where his tent was and he told me it had been stolen.  I had given him a tarp the last time down because his tent had some leaks in it.  Now he and Debbie are just sleeping on the sidewalk in the open air.  It must be miserable at night.  I gave out about three or four blankets initially and then started serving food while it was still hot.  Several other homeless folks with shopping carts wandered by and I served them too.  One of those was named Junior.  He instantly felt a connection with me.  Now most of the people I serve are of a different ethnicity than I am.  I really don't think about it much because to me the streets of downtown Los Angeles are like home to me.  I drove these streets many years ago when I drove trucks and I'm so familiar with them that its like being 'in the neighborhood' to me.  This city of Los Angeles is such a diverse city that I just don't think about those kinds of differences.  We're all here and we can all respect each other.  Well Junior made a comment that alluded to me being different than the rest of them.  It was a complement.  He told me, "Its not often that someone from a different ethnic group comes into another group.  It shows that you're fearless or God is with you."  I know God has placed me here to serve these people.  I may not always be fearless, but I do feel comfortable walking into a group of people and asking if they need any help.  The food, the clothes and the water help me to gain access to them and facilitate connecting their hearts with God's heart.  I remember seeing an interview with Bono the lead singer for the rock bank U2 (for those of you who don't know him or the band they are one of the biggest bands and Bono is known for being a proponent of the disadvantaged).  He said in this interview that "People want to know if God will bless their work.  Well we know God will bless work done to help the poor, widows and orphans."  He's right.  It really is a no-brainer.  This work has been the absolute joy and passion of my life.  I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything.

I served up most all the food at this stop and gave out all 7 blankets.  The folks picked through the clothes in the back of the car and I prayed with the whole group.  Yes, they all gathered around when I prayed for them.  I had gone back to the car and had gotten in when another woman came by, so I got out again and let her go through the clothes in the back.  Before I left Red asked me to pray again specifically for Debbie because she was having some health problems (he didn't elaborate).  He told me to "We need you to do what you do (pray)......for her."  Of course, I was more than willing.  I received many thank you's and God bless you's and hugs from these folks (even the men!).  How can you not love this work.  I told them I was going to be receiving some items at my Mom's the next night and included in those things were going to be some tarps.  They were pretty excited about that.  I didn't have much food left.  As it turned out I had about 2 1/2 bowls of pasta left and not many clothes left either.  Most of them women's clothes.  I drove on over to another little street off the I-10 at Los Angeles St and gave out the rest of the food and let them pick through what was left of the clothes and I prayed with them too.  There were three guys there so it worked out just about perfectly.  When I take sandwiches down here you can take just about as long as you need to because the sandwiches aren't hot.  If I bring pasta, it's imperative that you find a group of people so you can give it away as quickly as possible while it's still hot.  Sunday's trip could not have gone much more perfectly than it did.  I'm just sorry I forgot my phone and couldn't take any pictures.

OK, so you might be wondering about the scripture passage I opened with.  It is a rather obscure passage in the old Testament.  It has always intrigued me.  First, because they 'saw' God and lived. There are a couple of explanations as to how and why this happened, but not important for us here. The main thing about this passage for me and as it relates to Sunday's trip is the connection to, strangely enough, the announcement of the birth of Jesus.  You may recall how in Matthew 1 Joseph is told by an angel to go ahead and marry Mary because the baby is a fulfillment of the prophecy that a "virgin will have a baby boy and he will be called Immanuel," which means "God with us".  This passage above from Exodus is the only account we have of living humans, being with God so they experienced, "God with us".  Sunday was a different experience, but no less an experience of the "Spirit of God with us."  I'm sorry I am unable to explain it in a way that you could feel it like everyone else there did.  But we were all truly blessed by it. --Until next time   John

PS.  Before I sign-off, I want to thank everyone who has contributed this year to making these trips a blessing to me and the folks downtown.  It is truly a community effort.  I hope to continue doing this as long as I am able.  Please pray for my health to improve and for my homeless friends downtown. 



Monday, September 25, 2017

Downtown 9/24/17

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'  But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony..."  The rich man answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'  Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'  'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'  Abraham said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "  Luke 16:19-31

Well, it's finally time to write about some of the recent trips I have made downtown.  I sometimes forget that what seems to me to be a rather ordinary encounter with someone, may be extraordinary to the person I've encountered and even those reading this blog.  A couple of weekends ago I was driving up Compton Ave.  I'm not really sure where I was, I know I wasn't in Compton at that point maybe still in Watts or just north of there.  As I passed through an intersection there was a man digging through a trash can on one of the corners of the intersection, in fact, the same side where I was driving. I passed him and realized what he was doing and so I drove around the block to come up on him again.  I'm not sure what this guy was wearing.  Our encounter was very brief because it was on a corner, but what he had on was not clothing.  Maybe it was carpet or something green and furry cut out like a poncho or something.  I never did figure out what he was wearing for pants  There was no shopping cart nearby with possessions that I saw.  I stopped and offered him a sandwich through the car passenger window which he readily accepted as well as a couple of bottles of water.  Over the course of the last couple of weeks this encounter has not only stayed with me, but has troubled me to no end.  He thanked me for the food and water and said, "God bless you." and everything seemed to go OK, but it has just left me heartbroken for this guy. The first thing that occurs to me is that this man, like few others on the street, spends every part of every waking moment looking for food and shelter.  That's each and every day.  So yeah, some guy pulls up and while he's looking for old scraps of food from someone else, he gets a sandwich, crackers and a couple of clean unopened bottles of water.  Sure, he's extremely happy in the moment.  But I'm kicking myself for not taking a quick look around for a place to park and let the guy go through the clothes in the back of the car and turn the stop into a total transformation for him.  Then I could have gotten the guy's name, prayed with him and found out where he hangs out and tried to hook-up again with him the next week.  I drove back by there last week, but couldn't remember exactly where it was although it's doubtful he would be in the same exact spot the next week.  I really feel like I missed a great opportunity.

Last week I really struggled finding the 'right' folks to help.  I ended up driving to places I hadn't been in a really long time.  I had given out over half the food by the time I got downtown so you don't want to go to places where there are potentially a lot of people or some (including me) will be very disappointed when you run out of food.  If you've ever seen the look on peoples' faces when you just gave out the last sandwich, you'd know what I'm talking about.  Well, I was on 7th and Alameda and there are usually a couple of homeless folks who hang-out in the parking lot of a fast food place on the corner there.  They came over when I asked them if they were hungry.  One of the men asked what church I was with.  I told him I go to church, but I'm not down here with any church.  He said sometimes people with a church will come down there and hand out food.  He ended up by saying, "Well thank you for just being a decent human being."  I got a good chuckle out of that one.

Two Sunday's ago I drove by the little street (Santee St) by the I-10 freeway and the Los Angeles St. off-ramp where I've helped a lot of people (including the woman whose name is Hope).  But there was a fire truck at the entrance to the street and it looked like they had just put out a fire by the freeway off-ramp at the end of this street.  Last week I went by again and a couple of people were back, including Dave.  He told me that they didn't know who started the fire.  He also told me that Hope is living under the freeway at Los Angeles or Main St.  I drove by there, but didn't see her.

I started today's trip in Compton again at a little encampment off Imperial Ave between Wilmington and Central Ave.  Charles and Javier were there (I prayed with Charles) and a couple of others. Javier was actually awake today.  Marilyn was there, but I didn't see any of the other women who live there. I ended the trip down on 10th Place and San Pedro Ave downtown.  When I pulled up there were two men sitting on the sidewalk there.  One man I had seen just the week before, but the other man I hadn't seen in a very long time.  He told me he had recently gotten out of the hospital and as you can see the leg brace in the photo below he had had to learn to walk again after the back surgery he received. The three of us prayed together and then they went through the clothes in the back of the car.  Thaddeus (the man with the leg brace) was looking for some shirts.  I mostly had women's clothes and he took some of them for his niece who was in a tent across the street.  A little while later she came over with a dress on that she had just received.  She asked me if I'd pray for her.  I told her "Of course I will".  She first wanted to go through the clothes so I waited until she was through and asked if there was something special she wanted me to pray for.  She said yes she'd like to get her daughter back.  I didn't ask what had happened I just put my arm around her shoulder and prayed for her to get her daughter (whose name is Kennedy) back.  Yes, these folks on the streets have real problems just like we do.  From health issues, economic issues and relational issues they experience them just as we do.

I began this blog with the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus the poor beggar.  I always thought of the 'rich man' as a very wealthy man.  I have come to the conclusion that the rich man is you and me.  There a several points to the story, one being that we are to share and freely give to those in need.  The needy are often right nearby at freeway off-ramps, gas stations and fast food places, but the needy aren't limited to just people with economic problems, but emotional and spiritual depression as well. Lending an ear and just being a "decent human being" goes a long way to restoring their self esteem. Will this vulnerability lend itself to people taking advantage of you....yes it probably will from time to time. Our vulnerability is part of the price we pay to offer the richness and hope of God's kingdom to people struggling in this world.   Until next time. -- John

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Compton breakthrough-Father's Day 6/18/17

"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 102:16

Well, if you've been following these blogs the last few months you'd know I've been praying for a break-through in the Compton area. I've helped a few people here and there, but haven't found a spot yet where there were several people together at one place and at one time.  I've also come to believe that there will be no break-through until my heart changes.  I need to love Compton the way God loves Compton plain and simple.  To that end, I've been praying that God will give me a love for these folks the way He loves them and that I must be willing to suffer through any short-term difficulties to get to the real prize of connecting their hearts to God's heart.  It's not enough to just be successful at handing out food and clothing, really anyone can to that, but connecting the hearts of people who have been neglected and mistreated to the Father's heart is the real prize.  That's what I'm working towards.  So as I left home for this trip I asked my wife to pray that I would meet people that God wants me to love.  So here's what happened....

It was really hot, over a 100 degrees earlier in the day.  When I arrived at 5:40 pm it had cooled off some.  I had brought about 30 bottles of water on ice and a dozen sandwiches and socks and clothes. I got off the 91 at Central and went north stopping at a small shopping center across from a Home Depot store.  Usually there's at least one or two people there, but yesterday no one was there.  It may have been too hot to sit out in the direct sunlight.  I drove on up Central to the 105 freeway and turned right just after passing it.  I don't remember the name of the street, but it's a main street running parallel and just north to the freeway.  Less than a quarter mile east, past the burger joints and a gas station is a very small street, probably less than 30 yards long.  It goes from the main street there and ends up against the freeway embankment right next to the gas station. There's a vacant lot on the other side of the street.  I sometimes see one maybe two people there and have helped a couple of folks a time or two.  Yesterday, there was one guy that I could see there.  I asked him if he was hungry and he told me he was so I gave him a sandwich.  He pointed to a shopping cart and asked if he could get another one for the "old" guy that lived there.  I said sure and asked him how old the old guy was.  He said he didn't know but that he "acted" old.  We both shared a laugh over that.  He then told me there were some people living behind the fence, just out of sight.  He went over there and called out to them and before long 6 or 8 more people showed up, some from behind the fence and some from the gas station.  The first guy's name was Charles and the second guy who showed up was Peter.  He actually shared a clean joke with me about Moses and George Bush (you may have heard it before).  The cold water was a big hit and so were the socks, particularly the ones with soap inside them.  One of the last people was a woman named Dee.  She told me she actually lived in the projects by Wilmington and Compton Ave. with her daughter.  I told her I usually come by here on Sunday's about this time every week.  I prayed with her before leaving and when I finished she said, "That was a perfect prayer for me."  If you've followed the last couple of blogs you'll remember the comments of some of the others after praying for them.  It is so encouraging to see God's faithfulness in just the way people have commented after praying for them. Well, this was a first for Compton.  All the food gone not only before leaving Compton, but in one stop at that.  Everyone I met was cordial and thankful that I had come by.  I decided to end the trip here and go home.  After all it was Father's Day and if I left then (6 pm) I could get home to my wife and daughter with some daylight hours left.

So I turned around and got back on the main street going west and turned back on Central to get on the 105 freeway.  I was the first car in line to make a left turn and in the left of the two left turn lanes getting on the freeway.  Other cars were coming up behind me and to the right of me.  All of the sudden my car was jolted from behind by the car directly behind me.  I think the driver of the car was distracted and took their foot off the brake and the car idled forward into me.  Well now the light turned green and I had no choice but to start driving on the freeway on ramp.  It took some doing to get over to the right side of the on ramp and stop.  The car behind me that hit me just kept going.  I got out and looked at the damage which appeared minimal.  The license plate frame was busted and the license plate was dented along with the hatch door.  There was a pretty good scratch on the back bumper too.  My only concern now was whether the back hatch door was going to open OK or not, but I couldn't stay there on the freeway on ramp to check it out.  I got back in the car and drove home. Luckily, I'm not the type of guy that freaks-out over a dent in my car (it's 15 years old anyway).  I just want everything working and having the back hatch door open correctly is important on these trips. So here I am on my way home with what should be a trip to praise God for the break-through here in Compton.  It took a few minutes though to realize how Satan likes to try to rob us of our joy and then I got over it.  So after getting past the initial irritation of the rear-end job I started thinking about the folks I had just met and how happy and gracious they all were to me.  I started thinking about their lives there at the bottom of the freeway, some out of sight behind a fence and started thinking how heartbroken God must be that His children are living like that.  Here we are in America, the land of plenty and these folks are in the middle of the land of need.  I started tearing-up over it in the car. I then realized how God had answered two more prayer requests at the top of this blog.  My prayer request to find people to love on this trip and my heart for the people of Compton.  God is faithful. 

Until next time ---John    


Monday, May 29, 2017

Downtown 5/28/2017

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  The Apostle Paul's letter to the Christians living in Rome and one of my favorite verses. Romans 15:13 

I got a late start to the trip this week and didn't get to Compton until after 6 pm.  When my wife asked me, as I was leaving, what to pray for I said pretty much the same as last week, but a special request for a break-through in Compton.  While I didn't get to help anyone in Compton this week, I did see some homeless encampments at Hooper and Firestone (technically probably north of Compton).  The only problem was it was getting late by then and while there were obviously several people living in the parking lot of an abandoned retail store, they weren't outside their tents.  Etiquette dictates you don't go up to them and call out unless you know them.  I'll try and get there earlier next week. Please pray for this area.  So I drove on into Los Angeles.

This trip was one of those where I only saw a few people that I knew, but helped a lot of single folks getting ready to sleep on the street for the night.  Virtually every one of them was extremely grateful to receive some food and water before going to sleep.  I would have to say that they all would have gone to sleep hungry if I hadn't stopped.

The one encounter that forced me to write this blog was one of the last stops.  It was on another small street just west of Olive St off Pico Ave.  Lawrence lives there.  The last time I saw him a couple of months ago there was a woman staying with him.  She wasn't there this time; he was alone.  One of the best things about getting to do this ministry is the relationships I build over time with some of these folks and Lawrence is one of them.  You may recall from my trip last Christmas Day that he told me a rat had eaten the loaf of bread that he had bought the night before.  Well, this is that same guy.  We talked for quite a while tonight. At one point we were standing at the back of my car and he had gone through some of the clothes in the car. I pretty much only had women's clothes for this trip, but he wanted to look for something his friend might like.  Anyway, he asked me if I'd pray for him because he was looking to visit his Dad's grave tomorrow and apparently, there is a fair amount of internal baggage to go with a trip like this.  I said I'd be happy to pray for him and did. Now mind you, I really didn't know how to pray for this and I felt some internal struggles myself at what to say. I wouldn't say I stumbled through the prayer, but it was, no doubt, a touchy area of Lawrence' life and I didn't treat it lightly and wanted to bring as much peace and healing as I could.  When I finished, although he didn't say he felt "connected" like the man last week, he did say he felt at peace about it and relieved.  He told me, "It's obvious you have an anointing for prayer."  He thanked me profusely for praying for him.  I'll be praying for him again tomorrow from home.  Now look at the verse I opened with again.  "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  I had written this verse down last Monday and probably read it at least once or twice daily this week.  It begins with "the God of hope" and ends with "that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit".  We are to give this hope out to those most in need of it.  Folks living on the streets are part of that group.  After we trust in Him, he will fill us with joy and peace so we can be used to give out His hope.  What a privilege!

With that encounter, I only had a couple of sandwiches left to give out and found Carlos on a corner a couple of blocks away.  When I gave him some food and water he was so happy I thought he was going to get in the car with me.  Maybe he wanted to. Anyway, it was a nice way to end the trip.       -- Until next time.  John