This last summer we brought a group of 19 from our home in Vancouver, WA to serve with CSM L.A. Of all the great things that happened during the week, our first morning on the streets of L.A. was among my favorites. This was the morning of our City Search. Our group was divided up into smaller groups of 4-5. The mission given to us was to go out and find a homeless person, offer to buy them a meal, and to eat and talk with them. Reading this in black and white, this task may not sound too difficult. But let me give you a little insight into our group. During our trip from WA to L.A. one of our vans broke down (what youth mission trip worth its salt doesn't involve a broken down van somewhere along the way?). This resulted in major changes in our travel plans and in a major delay. Instead of arriving to CSM on Sunday at 5pm, we arrived Monday morning at 4am having driven all through the night. By the time we hit the streets for the City Search a few hours later on Monday morning, our group was already exhausted and feeling as if they were being thrown into the fire of urban ministry with little orientation.
God was with us in the fire. In the City Search the group of students I was with encountered a lady lying on the street outside of a McDonalds. As the rule of thumb is 'guys talk to guys and girls talk to girls', it was up to two of our young female students to initiate conversation with this lady. And so they did. Two nervous, shy, clean, and tired junior girls lowered themselves to the dirty sidewalk, sat and talked to this lady. Physically, the lady was a wreck. Her body was bruised and worn and it was obvious that she had not felt the touch of a shower in a long, long time. A Filet of Fish was requested and so a meal was broken and eaten there on the sidewalk of Broadway. Yet the lady was not so interested in the food as much as the conversation. She talked and talked and talked, maybe being thrilled just to have someone to listen to her talking. And then she reached to touch one of our girls. She grabbed a hand, shook it and squeezed it, maybe being thrilled just to have someone touch her.
Two things stood out for me in this experience. The first was how amazingly proud I was of our students. They had never done anything like this before. They were thrown into the fire and they came out better than before on the other side. As they sat and talked, their nervousness slowly melted away into compassion. Since coming back home, our youth group has made a regular habit of going into Portland to serve there in the city. How cool it is to see these same students interact with the homeless here, not with much nervousness, but with a confidence and compassion that was gained in L.A.
The second thing that stood out to me was the faces of the people that passed by us we sat on the sidewalk conversing with this lady. Stares of disbelief. Stares of wonder. Heads that turned backwards even after passing by, wondering, "why are these nice looking white kids sitting on the ground talking to her?". Afterwards I couldn't help but think of Jesus and how he must have experienced something similar. Jesus, a good, religious, respected Jew touching lepers and other people deemed unclean. How the crowds must have stared at Jesus in disbelief. And they did. How countercultural for Jesus. And for us. But this is the power of the gospel: God lowering Himself down to us in our uncleanness and making us clean...His followers authentically doing the same for others.
-Brent, Youth Pastor from Vancouver, WA