When you are praying and a door opens . . .
consider it might be God who is holding the door open for you.
A number of years ago, I asked to go along with my friend, Gary Smith, to the homeless gathering he served in Long Beach. (a large city about an hour south of Los Angeles). As I stood in the back and watched folks come in, greet one another, listen to the Word of God, and then eat lunch, I was gripped. On my drive back home, I thought 'that is where Jesus would be, I'm certain of it.' I went back the next week. And the next. You see, sooner or later, Love gets Involved.
The distance from South Orange County, California to 9th and Atlantic Streets in Long Beach cannot be measured in miles. You see, when I drove my SUV off the 405 Highway and covered the distance to the Friends Church, it was the spanning of totally different cultural existences from my home and neighborhood in the little beach community of San Clemente to the one in the inner city of Long
Beach. When I backed out of my driveway, I left a safe, upper class predominantly white neighborhood and drove into a racially diverse, economically challenged, crime-ridden neighborhood where many folks were down on their luck. Pastor Fred and Brother Gary provided the passageway for me to get involved with a large community of homeless people. Week after week, I went back just to embrace the folks and pray for them.
Then I started stocking my Escalade with clothes and blankets I collected from Women of Passion and my neighbors. I did not just go and serve the folks and forget about them over the course of the week, I found myself thinking and worrying about them, praying for them, and wanting to do more.
Acceptance was a two-way street. My learning curve was obvious, but it took a little while for my new friends to accept and build a little trust in me as well. ‘What was my end game?‛ I could see it in their eyes. ‘What are you doing here?‛ It meant a lot when they were glad to see me. Slowly but surely, I began to do a little more—teaching and sharing Bible lessons.
There are rules and codes on the street--did you know that? I slowly began to assimilate those as well. You never touch their stuff. Eye contact is brief or it is perceived as a challenge. Almost everyone goes by a street name; they do not tell you their legal name. Many are ‘wanted‛ by someone—even if it is just someone else on the street. There is a certain safety in street names. Some of the names I learned were funny like Enhancer, Koffe, and Popeye – though he really did look like Popeye!
I loved teaching my new friends because they were participatory, authentic and honest--no pretense. From the front of the room one day, I remember surveying the large group, looking from person to person, and thinking,‘Okay, that guy scares me. If I were walking down a street and encountered him, I would probably look the other way and maybe even cross the street.‛ He was big and tall, very dark, had his hat pulled down low concealing his steely eyes with yellow-y whites, as he slouched against a post. Yeah, he kinda sent a shiver down my spine because he looked meaner than a junkyard dog.
But then, a funny thing happened. In a lesson I was teaching I asked what God requires of us. I said,“Twice God says in Scripture, ‘be holy --‘what?” looking for someone to finish the scripture verse aloud. And out from underneath that hat came,“because I am holy.” “What did you say?” I went back at him. “I said ‘because he is holy‛”. Huh, so the scary guy knows some Scripture, and I‛m sure I visibly rubbed my chin. “What‛s your name?” I took a step toward him. (Mind you, there were at least 40 other people there) He looked at me evenly and said,“Duke. Duke of Earl." And that was the beginning.
No two weeks at the Basement Gathering were ever the same. Folks came and went, which was sometimes a good thing. They came because they were hungry—for food and Jesus and love. They went because they had gotten a job, got into a program or something good had happened, but they also went—to jail, to alcohol-related deaths, and some to suicide.
What‛s the point of all this? You and I, Christian, are called and must learn to love, even those who are very different from us for whatever the reason; and we must learn to express that love in practical ways. Consider John's words, ‘Dear friends, we must love each other because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born from God and knows God. The person who doesn‛t love doesn‛t know God, because God is love.‛1 And that love will always be an incomplete expression unless we tell of God‛s great love as well. It was our beloved Paul who captured this need so aptly, ‘But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?‛2
You see, sooner or later, love must get involved. We must choose to love those who are hard to love, even those who are family, those who are neighbors, because that‛s what we‛re called to do! We must love each other because love comes from God, and ultimately, love gets involved. Maybe your God-given dream [your purpose] will involve serving those who are lost, disenfranchised and far from God. It is then that you will feel fully alive.
1 – 1 John 4.7-8
2 – Romans 10.14