In my lifetime, I’ve never encountered anything as complex as homelessness. There are incredibly painful layers attached to this issue for the individual and for the city. Honestly, sometimes I just sit, dumbfounded, wondering how in the world we can begin to eradicate extreme poverty and oppression in our communities.
Skid Row has become the community we are most familiar with. For years, our incredible lead Pastors, Philip and Holly have encouraged our church to care for the poor and the marginalized locally and globally. As a church we put our money where our mouth is, serving, giving financially and developing long term strategies and solutions while relieving immediate needs.
Yesterday, we had the privilege of sitting down with the Jonah Project on Skid Row. Pastors Patrick, this tall white guy with red dreadlocks longer than my hair, and Mary, a mom of three who is ferociously in love with Jesus. When we first walked in, I thought, Oh Lord… Its basically a warehouse turned mission.
But, we hadn’t been with Mary for more than 2 minutes when a homeless man walked up to her asking for prayer for his mom in Burlington, NC who is dealing with bone cancer. She didn’t say, “Sorry, can I get with you after this meeting with a big church in LA?” She stopped to listen to him and pray for him.
As we walked the floor, the people reached out to her, talked to her, and the relational dynamics in her leadership were apparent. Evidence of reciprocal relationship proven in each step. She is in and among the people.
This is a rare quality in a leader.
According to John Perkins, my personal hero and mentor from afar, this is the critical piece to community development. When we approach a people group in our suits and assess their situation without consideration of the context from which they live, we often assume we know what is appropriate for change and rather than empower the people to be the change, we enable them to attempt to live up to our standard. We see the cycle in their lives continue, rather than break.
I’m so young in this position and only 17 months into studying the social justice issues in Los Angeles, I honestly don’t have the answers. But we’re asking questions in hopes of encountering the wisdom of our God who does. If the missions on Skid Row are the answer, why have they been there for more than 50 years and homelessness is up 14%? Why are 1600 prisoners dropped off in that area every month? Why are there 700 registered sex offenders on Skid Row? Why can’t a woman walk down that street for more than 48 hours without being raped?
I was tempted to judge Mary and Patrick because their ministry did not look like what I thought it would. I asked God to take my suspicious eyes off and show me what He saw. I then ached with compassion and began to realize how much this staff is in love with Jesus and His people. Maybe homeless ministry doesn’t have a “should”.
“Mary, what do you think is the biggest need is for the people on Skid Row.” Without hesitation, she said, “Jesus.”
Not a program, not a system, not a building… Jesus. Without true life transformation, the cycle will always continue and without a mind set renewal, people cannot be empowered to freedom that sets others free. We agree with Mary and Patrick.
We’d love for you to join us on January 14th as we partner with them to Adopt the Block on Skid Row. We’ll be baptizing people in a Kiddie pool on the back of my husband’s pick up truck. And I can’t imagine you’d want to miss that!