After taking out one of our friends for a birthday dinner as a team this Thursday, we headed to the streets, complaining of the cold. All bundled up in scarves and jackets, we stood shivering at the laundromat at 11pm while sharing prayer requests.
We chatted at the donut shop for a while, inviting people to the Refuge, but no one wanting to come right away. But God faithfully answers even those quick, simple prayers like, “God please bring people”. By the time we started, several had joined us, many for the warm pizza… some stayed, some left, but one of the drug-dealing crew actually stuck around after grabbing pizza. He told us, “You better hurry up, because I’m about this close to converting to Islam.”
This young man (we’ll call him ‘Paul’) stayed around for the next couple of hours, talking with some of the team about his history with being a Christian, his recent draw to Islam, his current situation of homelessness and wanting to stop the drug life he’s been living and take care of his family, who is separated from right now.
He gladly accepted the offer to pray for him, so the team surrounded and prayed for a while. A bit of the way through, a random guy – completely drunk – comes up and joins in with us to pray. From the get-go it’s hard to tell exactly where this will lead, though clear it could be completely bizarre. It’s not all making sense, and he keeps referring to his 45 year old brother who is dying and how upset he is about it.
He’s in Paul’s face, and very intense, but it all starts coming together. Within a few minutes, the F word is dropping every sentence as he rants about how Paul needs to get his life straight, stop f-ing around, how much potential he has, how lucky he is to have a family and that he needs to be there for him.
If you were watching this from the outside, you’d think a fight was about to break out. This guy is yelling, pointing, pushing…and crying. He’s so passionate about the fact that Paul is a strong, “fly”, black man, someone with potential and that the “mother f-er” is “f-ing” his life away and needs to be who he is. Needs to be who he’s meant to be. He asks about his dreams, and asks why he’s not pursuing them, and so on.
I wish words could actually paint the picture of the strange beauty of this moment. A normal guy could easily be fuming by now at the calling out, yelling, and apparent disrespect happening. Not to mention that he’s probably used more cuss words at this point than anything else. But Paul just keeps looking at him, not wavering, listening respectfully. There are enough funny things said that the tension is finally able to break, and eventually it calms down (after we ask him to end his rant). Paul laughs, but soberly says, “he’s right though.”
The drunk guy, though incoherent and offensive at moments, has been speaking so much truth and simply felt called over to pray for Paul. It’s almost a picture of God (minus the profanity). An older man so emotional over the fact that this guy has so much potential and is wasting it completely on a life that, earlier made Paul say he didn’t even feel able to touch the Bible because of the way he’s living.
It looks harsh, but this is one of the most truthful, loving things I think I’ve ever seen here.
Gemma goes on to share a word of encouragement for Paul that she feels from God, which solidifies the theme here: that Paul knows who he is, and God is confirming his identity in Him, but that he has to accept it and live it out.
Paul asks us if we have any kind of establishment, but we let him know that this is it, this is what we do and where we meet. I mention that we all go to other churches, though. He responds with, “No, I stay away from those places. But I’ll definitely be back here.”
And that’s IT. That’s why we’re here. Not everyone will walk into a church or come asking to know about Jesus. But they’re thinking about it. They’re wrestling out their spiritual life, and sometimes just need someone to meet them where they’re at. It makes no sense to have a bible study in front of a laundromat on a crime-ridden and fairly boring strip of Santa Monica boulevard. Which is probably why it works. There’s always someone needing to hear from God, we just have to be ready….because this is the kind of thing that can happen in the freezing cold at 1am !