I have just celebrated my 5th month working with Center for Student Missions (CSM) and it is quite different than any anniversary I have experienced. In these past two seasons, I have been a city host to groups coming from all over the nation who want to come into the city to be a reflection of Christ. This has been done in many forms; playing with children, retirement home bingo sessions, etc. But the time I have been reflective of recently is of my and my teams times visited at missions and how the time I have spent in L.A. has begun to change my heart and thought process entirely over time.
A little over two years ago I came to this city for the first time as a volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission, the oldest mission residing in “Skid Row” (area designated specifically to those suffering in homelessness in L.A.). I learned many different facts and met many figures. Those living or who had lived on the streets were the preachers of my trip and I just just sat quietly listening as a simple student. This trip caused the initial tear in my heart and conviction to come back to this city. You see, I came with the self righteous and barrier-building mentality that I was the aid that would help save people…and very quickly did I learn that that was wrong. In having this mentality, I was building walls and separation between myself and those suffering making my supposed “aid” a joke. Luckily my friends from the street did not approach me the same way in their teachings.
One teaching in particular came from a man that was in the mission rehabilitation program. I told him I was from Idaho and he said that he loved it there. I was startled because normally I get one of two responses, “AHHHH POTATOES!!!” or “Oh I went through there once”. So as I spoke to this man, that was the response I was waiting for. But what came next was all new…”I love Idaho…do you want to know why!!!” “Enlighten me” I replied. “In Idaho, you can be outside one day, with trash covering every corner of what you see but when it snows….man when it snows, everything is white! Doesn’t that sound like the Gospel?? Going into one day a sinner but with God’s love coming out clean.” I discovered that though I had “accepted Christ into my heart” that I had not met him officially until meeting this man. Since that day, I have moved back to L.A. and have come with different perspective on Christ entirely but it has been a process.
This week, I had a group here from San Diego and one of our earliest mornings began at one of my favorite places in the world, The Midnight Mission. The Midnight Mission has been in existence for 100 years and has served millions upon millions of people in its time. It is one of the big three missions in the Skid Row area and offers many different aid options from rehab to a simple meal. Whatever is needed, they offer it. Many groups have come through this mission taking me along with them but this particular visit was different. My team and I were serving breakfast on the front lines and getting every kind of response you can think of; some complaints, multiple mutters, but an overwhelming amount of gratitude. This is normal. But what was not normal was me.
As each person passed by my San Diego friends and myself, all I could process was what dreams each of my Skid Row neighbors and friends had and continue to have… “Oh, I wonder what kind of music he dreams of playing and for who…” I thought as a man came through with a guitar strapped to him. “I bet she writes…I could see her writing…maybe a poet?” I continued to imagine different dreams and lives for each of the individuals walking past me and began feeling sorrowful about it. We enter into this area, one that has the highest concentration of homeless in the U.S. and my thoughts were about their dreams. Have I not learned anything? Have each of the days I have spent these past 5 months been turned into simple reflection of childhood accomplishments unreached?
CSM’s theme this summer is Collison: Heaven and Earth with Matthew 6:10 as the core motivation in it all… “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is a loaded and familiar phrase from the Lords prayer that we are often saying but rarely reflective upon. In evaluating my thought shift, this prayer came to mind. The collision I see is us; the secure, uninterrupted, wealthy of the world running full force into the hurts, destruction, and constant fear of our brothers and sisters residing in the worst of conditions. The collision is us dropping barriers, both sides. At first glance my perception at The Midnight Mission seems insensitive and ridiculous. I see that. But where I rejoice is, is that not the way we think of those we love? Is that not the thought process when we initially meet someone? Is not our first question to those we introduce ourselves to, “What do you do?” Meaning, what are you about? What do you dream of? Who do you want to be to the world?
In working for CSM, I am recognizing that from the time I first visited Skid Row two years ago to now a great movement has occured in my heart. I have been earth colliding with the heaven of the people suffering. As I spend more time seeing others as dreamers alongside myself, I also find myself loving and coming closer to Jesus. After all, he was a homeless dreamer too….
If we eliminate the barriers and come into the collision with love instead of self-centered recognition, how might the outcome look?