All posts in “Los Angeles, CA”

Giving Thanks on Skid Row

November 17th was one of my favorite events at the Union Rescue Mission.  On this day, the URM hosts its annual Thanksgiving Dinner Event. This event is not just a simple dinner. During the event, the URM provides a complete Thanksgiving meal to about 3,000 individuals experiencing homelessness on skid row.

This means they fry up about 300 turkeys to serve alongside mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, cabbage and even chicken nuggets for the picky eaters! Alongside this incredible meal is a special celebration the URM puts on for the families utilizing their services. Families don’t just get a meal, but they also get to partake in bouncy houses, games, face painting and much more!

What’s even more incredible than how much food or how many activities the URM provides, is how the Los Angeles community comes to support the mission in this event. This year the URM had about 400 volunteers come to help pull this event off. I truly think I saw a glimpse of what the body of Christ is supposed to look like. When you have 400 people coming together for the same cause- you can’t help but to get emotional. Because the volunteers took time out of their schedule to be with a part of their community that is normally ignored, I and the rest of those at the event were able to witness just a small portion of God’s perfect plan.

When Being Worn Out is Actually a Good Thing

In addition to serving as the Partnership Coordinator, I also have the privilege to work year round with our partners at Union Rescue Mission on the ‘Families’ floor. I’d love to share a little bit of what the Lord is teaching me through this incredible organization.

This past month The Union Rescue Mission has been down to one elevator. Now, when you have 1,300 people living or working in your building, this can cause some minor frustrations. Maybe it’s because I am an impatient individual, but one day while waiting over 5 minutes for the elevator I started to complain internally. I was complaining about the elevator which then made my mind trail off to other problems with the Mission. Like how in some areas of the building the air conditioning doesn’t work super well, some of the kitchen appliances are broken, and some of the office doors don’t close very well – these were just some of the complaints I made internally before the my thoughts were interrupted by the ding of the one working elevator. Throughout this past month, these thoughts continued. I was spending a lot of time wishing the building I was working in looked like the churches in Los Angeles. So many churches are aesthetically pleasing. They were perfect for that instagram picture.

Last week, while I was sitting at a coffee shop, I pulled out my bible. I realized that my bible was starting to look a little worn out. Corners were frayed, the edge was stained brown from coffee spills (because we all know you can’t read your bible without a cup of coffee). Many of the pages had tears from vigorously turning them. While examining my bible I remember having a since of pride overcome me. When my bible looks worn out, this must mean that I use my bible a lot. Before this thought could be completed I remember thinking back to how much I had complained over the last month about how worn out the Mission was. I had a moment of conviction. I should take great pride in the fact the building I work in is worn out. This means that the community living and working behind its doors are using the building to its fullest potential. This building is so worn out because Union Rescue Mission does not turn away women or children. This building is worn out because it feeds an average of 2,500 people experiencing homelessness every single day! How cool is that? I am so incredibly blessed that I get to wake up everyday, walk down these building halls, and experience so many incredible moments. It is also a huge privilege that the Union Rescue Mission allows Next Step Ministries to play a part in the wear and tear of the building through bringing students out during the summers.

Once again, The Union Rescue Mission and its inhabitants have shown me what is important and necessary to live in true community. If we allow the material world to take precedence over people- then we will never accomplish what we were initially created to do.

Age is Just a Number

“When it comes to ministry, age is just a number. We have to be willing and able to let Christ work through us. Sometimes this can uncomfortable or even scary.”

If you have ever served with us out in Los Angeles you have probably heard me say something like the statement above on Sunday night. When encouraging the students about their week ahead, I try to remind them that they are all in L.A. because Christ has called them.  Although contrary to what the world tells us, God declares he desires to use each of us to expand his kingdom- regardless of age, ability, etc. He most definitely did this with the middle school group we had from Christian Assembly Church this week.

From day one these students came with the mindset of “how can we work alongside”. I got to personally see them in action when I took a group out onto the streets. Every week we take time to go outside onto the streets of Skid Row to do some relational ministry. As soon as we went outside, it was clear they took this to heart as they said hello to every person that walked by. When opportunities arose they would start praying over people. It didn’t matter if this person was twice their age, smelled bad, or looked angry. They were out there on a mission to prove to the Skid Row community that we are all made equal in God’s eyes, and that He loves us unconditionally! The coolest part was how some of the Skid Row community members responded. They started sharing scripture and encouraging the students. This is what the church is supposed to look like! Different people from all walks of life, economic statuses, races coming together to encourage and remind one another of our purpose on this earth. Through these middle school students, I truly believe I saw a small glimpse of heaven.

They didn’t just stop on the streets, anything Next Step threw at them they attacked with love and compassion. They brought the phrase I say every Sunday to life. Because they were willing and able, they brought the love of Christ to the least of these in Los Angeles.

Because of the students of Christian Assembly, I am so excited to see how Christ uses those he has called to Los Angeles this summer. Please continue to pray that God will push us past our comfort zones and lead with the love of Christ.

Lessons from Living on Skid Row

One of the biggest updates in my life is that I have found my own place to call home. While I am grateful for God’s provision, my move has given me the space to reflect on what I have learned from living at a shelter for those experiencing homelessness over the past six months. Through this post, I would like to share what the beautiful community of Skid Row has taught me.

I am not the expert and will never be the expert on on those experiencing homelessness: in life we can only fully be experts in what we have personally experienced.

I can recall countless times thinking that I had the answer. “I mean I have never been homeless, so obviously I know what it takes to not become homeless”- was one of those thoughts. By the examples of those I lived with at the shelter, I learned to instead think “Since I have never been homeless,  I obviously do not and could never fully understand what those experiencing homelessness go through”. Many times I would start out entering conversations and relationships with a ‘fixer’ mentality. I wanted to be the one to save those at the shelter from themselves. This mentality really only accomplished two things:

      • Stunting any true relationships based on love and understanding
      • Slowing God’s work in lives of those I was interacting with

Those living at the shelter never pretended to understand what my struggles were. They listened, asked questions, and allowed God to speak. They weren’t concerned with being the ones to solve the problem, but wanted me to meet Christ in every situation I went through.When I started to do the same for those living around me, I truly saw God move. Once I stopped trying to be the expert, and allowed the creator of the universe to be the expert, I got to watch lives transform.

One of the most asked questions I receive while giving tours at the Union Rescue Mission is “what is it going to take to end the epidemic of homelessness in Los Angeles?” At first I was not able to answer this question. But through my time living at the shelter, I think I have started to grasp a direction to begin this process of healing. Now I must start my answer by saying- I am in no way an expert. But through what I have experienced, I predict it is going to take many different types of action. As humans, we are complex beings with many facets. The epidemic of homelessness is a people problem- therefore it is also complex.

Foremost, it is going to take the intentional action of us living in the Los Angeles community to be willing to break down the social barriers between those experiencing homelessness and those who are not. There is a very physical line denoting where the Skid Row community and the rest of the Downtown community meet. This barrier creates a very tangible social barrier that I’ve found myself even playing into at times. In full vulnerability, I’ve found myself just assuming that the reason why there are so many people on the streets is because of their addictions or they have chosen not to keep searching for help. I also have found myself skipping a street that I would normally take because someone looks “rougher” that’s resting on the sidewalk. All of these thoughts and actions contribute to the creation of these barriers. Once I started taking steps to intentionally tear down the barriers- through having more international conversations with those I usually would avoid or ask more questions to those I met in the shelter, I started to understand the community.

Another lesson I have learned is that I assume way too much. I decide who someone is before they even have a chance to introduce themselves. When I first started living at the shelter, I was choosie. I would only invest time in those that I assumed that I would like. This initial assumption was typically based on physical appearance (physical cleanliness = they have their stuff together) or social status within the shelter. I didn’t realize I was doing this until I started to observe how the men within the program at the Union Rescue Mission would treat each other. While in the program, those that you are in you program are your family. You don’t get to choose who they are, and the only way to understand who they are is to not assume, but rather learn about who they are. These men understand that everyone has messed up, and that in our messiness Christ still loves us unconditionally. Because they truly understand this concept, their first action is to love all of those around them. All different types of men in the program love me so well. Half of them do not even know me on a personal level, but because I was created by the same God that created them they choose to love me.

While I am so thankful to have found a place live, I am even more incredibly thankful for the life lessons I learned while living at a shelter for those experiencing homelessness. The biggest lesson I learned was that we are beautifully broken. Yes, we are sinful and fallen, but because we are all created in God’s image we are still beautiful in His eyes.

God’s Schedule is the Best Schedule

This past month we had two amazing Next Step groups come and work alongside the Skid Row community. The first group’s week went as expected. We made it to all of our destinations and they served so amazingly well. The Next Step staff was blown away by their incredible hearts. The second group’s week started off the same way…then…Wednesday happened.

On a Wednesday morning I was woken up by a phone call from one of our Next Step interns stating that due to the bad storms rolling in, Hope Gardens (where we live for Next Step trips), was needing to evacuate the property!

Fact of the day: Because of the wildfires that came through the valley Hope Gardens resides in during December, there isn’t any vegetation to hold the ground together. This makes the potential for mud slides much more common when it rains.

My first thought was- this can’t happen! This is not in the plans! This selfish thought was quickly overtaken by the realization that If Next Step has to evacuate, that means all the women and children of Hope Gardens will also be evacuating and sleeping in the gym at Union Rescue Mission for the third time since Christmas. Thanks to our awesome partners at Union Rescue Mission, Next Step was able to stay at their building for the evacuation as well.

I then went on a mission to see how Next Step could be of the most help in transitioning the 300 women and children who had been evacuated. Some of the leaders from Hope Gardens explained to me the most pressing task was accumulating enough air mattresses for the moms and kids to sleep on during that night over the next 3 hours. The Next Step team was eager to help! Inside I remember thinking –there is no way we can drive around Los Angeles, in the traffic, while it’s raining, and collect 300 air mattress in 3 hours. I told the Hope Gardens leadership we would do our best.

This is not in the plans…this is not in the plans…this is not in the plans! This is what was running through my head as I was explaining to the leaders and students what we were about to do. I was ready for them to respond with- “there is no way we can make this happen in that short amount of time!” Instead they took action. They were determined to be get the job done. To be honest, I had very little confidence we would complete the task.

The group started researching local Walmarts in the area and once they had about 15-20 listed, they began to call them asking them to set air mattresses aside for our pick up. As they got in contact with more and more Walmarts, the number of air mattresses really started to grow. First there were 50…then 100…then 150! Once they reached 150, they sent half the team to start retrieving the air air mattresses. The number kept growing and they kept sending more people out. I was standing in the back of the in amazement. We had 200 air mattresses in under 2 hours!

Then one of the leaders told everyone to stop. She was on the phone with one of the Walmart managers who was checking there stock, but believed they had 100. When he reported back he said they had at least 101! This meant we had 301 air mattresses. The team had done it! And what’s more, they did not just stop there. Once all the air mattresses were back, they proceeded to unpack them and blow them up for the families.

I could not thank the group enough for what they did. Because off the groups willingness to serve, the community I have grown to love so much did not have to wonder if they would have beds for the night. When I tried to express my gratitude to the leaders they reminded me of something I had completely forgotten. They told me the purpose of them being here was to serve. There only job was to say yes, and let God do the rest.

I was so caught up in the schedule for the week. I wanted the group to be able to experience what I had planned- but what I had planned was not what God had planned. I had a very hard time letting go of my plan and letting God use the group for how he intended. Luckily, the group was already in this mindset. They understood they I could have tried everything in my power to keep to my schedule, but at the end of the day God would have his will. Because the group was willing to listen to His will, perfect love and glory was shown to both the Hope Gardens and Union Rescue Mission communities.

Not Me but We

This past week I was able to serve for the first time as Partnership Coordinator (PC for short) on a spring break mission trip. In many ways, this is what PCs plan all year for- to have students come and experience the community we fell in love with. While the Next Step interns and students were here, I learned a valuable lesson.

Since moving out to L.A. I have been fighting this I mentality. I am moving to L.A. to serve Skid Row. I am working for both Next step and Union Rescue Mission. It is up to me to make sure that the off season trip goes smoothly. As soon as the Next Step interns landed in L.A. this mentality was tested.

If I am going to be honest, it was very hard for me to give up control of the week. It was even harder not to worry about the friendships and partnerships I had worked so hard to create in my community would not be harmed. This fear caused me to want to be involved in every decision that was made so that I would have control over what was going to happen. It took every ounce of energy not to be this way. But once I took a step back, I was able to see the beauty of this Next Step trip, and see how Christ created his body to serve.

The first night of the trip I was reminded of Romans 12:3-8. Which states:

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

It was amazing to see the visiting Next Step staff use their gifts and passion to lead students in their service projects and advocate on behalf of the community. Because the staff were willing to be servants of Christ, they facilitated an unforgettable week for the visiting group. Each and every staff member had special gifts and talents. Each used their gifts to bring God glory, and that is how God was able to work through the students.

The students also acted as a valuable part of the body of Christ as they put in the hard work on the service projects. Because of the students, people experiencing homelessness heard about how much their everlasting father loves them, a new urban garden was built, flooring at Hope Gardens was replaced, kids at Hope Gardens were invested in, and their moms were able to rest with the extra set of eyes caring for their children. There is no way I could have accomplished even a fraction of this with the mentality I wanted to have.

As a member of the body of Christ, I can never have full control. It is not me. It is we. Only we were able to accomplish what we did through Christ.

Beautifully Difficult

Transition is a beautiful thing. Now, if you would have asked me a few weeks ago how I liked my current state of changing from one season of life to a completely new one, I would have used other words to describe this transition. Maybe a better way to describe transition is- it’s a beautifully difficult time in life. Continue Reading…

Transforming the Unconscious Mind

“I do not mind working for the community, but I do not want to live amongst this community!”, this was my thought while sitting in my friend’s house in Phoenix, Arizona- having finished already two very exhausting days of driving from Arkansas.

Continue Reading…

More than Money

Since I have been involved with Next Step’s partnership in Los Angeles, I have seen many mission teams come and serve. Some return and some do not. Many people ask from outside circles, “Wouldn’t it just be better if all those people sent you money instead of wasting their resources and your time?” Continue Reading…

6 Promises for the Cause of Missions

Over the last couple of years, when organizing Next Step trips, I’ve used Habakkuk 2:14 as a verse that undergirds some of the things we do out in California, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”. It stands as a promise that what we are laboring for will ultimately prevail. Continue Reading…

Ministry Implications of the Incarnation

As we are approaching Christmas I have been pondering more and more the truth of the incarnation and the implications it has on our ministry. The joy of the fact that God became flesh to dwell among us is overwhelming. Continue Reading…

3 Steps Towards Gospel-Centered Cultural Engagement in LA

In my previous posts I spent some time touching on how Next Step is engaging culturally and advocating for social justice in Los Angeles. However, our basis for all hope offered, every plate of food served, and every project worked on, is the cross.  Continue Reading…

Christ Has Shown Mercy

I was recently in Los Angeles on a trip to meet with partners and begin the planning process for our 2017 summer. I had the honor to teach an afternoon Bible class on the Parable of The Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel at the Union Rescue Mission, Next Step’s main partner in LA. As I was leaving the building, I saw several well dressed business men who must have been lost, walking on South San Pedro Street. As I observed them walking, a man was clearly shamefully asking them for change, staring at the ground instead of their faces. I, too walked the other way, as I was heading to my next business meeting. With each step though, my feet got heavier and heavier—to the point that I could no longer continue moving forward. I heard two voices. One was the faint, defeated voice of the man asking for change. The other was my own, reciting the remnants of that afternoon’s Bible class. I thought to myself, “You are the priest and the Levite who walked by, but ‘the one who showed him mercy.’ . . . You go, and do likewise” -Luke 10:37 Continue Reading…

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