26 April 2007

Thursday, March 29th

This morning the Masters Commission students performed their "show" for us. The word show isn't appropriate but I can't think of what else it should be called. It is more akin to a talent show (drumming, break dancing, poetry reading, etc) with a message. Presentation, maybe that is the best word. The students present the message that everyone is divinely made and uniquely gifted and those gifts can be used for God's service. They go all over Southern California and put on this presentation in churches and schools. As the teams were splitting up into their assignments for the morning I slipped out. My team was doing Adopt-a-block again, this time a free car wash. But I had made arrangements to talk with a couple people in the Metro Kidz office. I first had to get my morning jolt of caffeine in the form of coffee. While it was great to have a little cafe on campus to get decent coffee (versus the nasty stuff served in the cafeteria) they had to be some of the slowest, most inefficient people in the service industry. In meeting with the HR person for Metro Kidz I basically wanted to know how do you start Metro Kidz, what training is available, and what, if any, ongoing support. I love the idea and concept of the trucks taking Sunday school to the street where the kids are, but I came to realize in the discussion that it really needs to be done out of a church. It may work to do it as a para-church organization but you'd still need the support of several churches. Anybody else want to help me get it started?

After lunch we went out with Under the Bridge which served lunch to homeless people under the 3rd street bridge and downtown. Dot was driving the van and we had one of the ministry people riding shot-gun to help give directions. While weaving out way downtown to the bridge Dot got a little wild and kissed mirrors with a stopped bus. Thankfully the only damage was a small part of our side view mirror went missing. But it provided a lot of fodder for teasing Dot. Under the 3rd street bridge we set up to serve meals but there were very few people, maybe two dozen, we hand delivered most of them to people. As we walked around there were areas where the stench of urine was almost overpowering and rat droppings were noticeable everywhere. While we were down there a truck came and picked-up one and delivered an empty dumpster, one of the big super-sized construction dumpsters. Apparently it is part of the campaign to clean up downtown. As we were packing up the food to head to the next site a man became very angry and started yelling at one of our team members. He accused us of being prejudice and patronizing, what he really needed was a job- not food. Chris, the ministry leader, went over and talked to him and pulled him away from the rest of us while the other ministry leaders quickly herded us back into the vans. Chris later told us that he knew the guy, he was a 'regular' and told him he was being stupid, that he didn't need to act this way.

We moved several blocks north and set up again. People were already lined up around the corner when we arrived and they were plenty upset that we were late! Isn't that hilarious? Here we had a variety of responses from people being profusely thankful to a couple people who exclaimed "I'm not gonna eat that crap!" Granted it wasn't food that I would want or fix for myself but it was decent food. One of the gals serving made a face at the more vocal lady who was expressing her dislike for the menu that was something of shock. Her comments boiled down to 'you wouldn't eat it so why are feeding it to me.' I made the comment to her, "It's probably what we are having for dinner." I'll admit that is the attitude that continually surprises me. The homeless are living off of handouts and others charity yet they defy the old adage, "Beggars can't be choosers." They don't want to just be feed, they want to be feed well and to their preferences. It was also interesting to see the social structure. There are established rules by the regulars and a couple women came around who did not understand or ignored that there was a line they had to wait in to get food. That got quite the reaction from those patiently waiting their turn. One other interesting thing I observed is that those who did not like something, say the zucchini, after they had ate everything else would toss it onto the sidewalk. In fact most of the people just threw there plate into the gutter or along the sidewalk. As we went around with garbage bags to pick up the debris some were very consciences to give us everything around them that was trash. Someone has left their plate, utensils, and cup in a neat stack on the edge of the sidewalk. I was headed over to pick it up when a man walking towards me went by and kicked it into the street. I wanted to yell, "Dude! that was so unnecessary!" But it illustrates the underlying disrespect that I think is an aspect of homelessness. We went back to the Dream Center and debriefed with Chris who told us some horrifying stories. He talked about how he had seen a women beaten to death one block away from where we were serving downtown a month ago. He also told us that the state of California ceased funding for the state run mental hospitals a couple years ago and those who didn't have family to care for them, they were loaded on buses and dropped off downtown on skid row to fend for themselves. Chris said he sees people still wearing their hospital ID bracelet and or gown. That shocked me, how can anyone, especially a whole state government, act so inhumanely? Since the push to clean-up downtown he says that a lot of homeless have disappeared, or at least are not around Skid Row anymore, but the downside is, they don't know where they are, and if you don't know where they are, how can you minister to them? And without them being in a concentrated area it is very difficult to minister to the homeless population. He is quoted in an LA TImes article about the homeless migration, that about half of the regulars are gone. He has heard stories of some being arrested or detained on minor charges and when they are released they are driven out to the desert and left. I kinda question the validity of that story. At least, I don't want to believe it.

After dinner five of us decided to go out on bus pick-up. Meg, Dot, and I went on a bus to a Hispanic neighborhood with a lot of kids while Lindsay and Tiana went on the bus to Skid Row. We had two gals from Master's Commission on the bus with us who have been going to this neighborhood each week and they told us of all the troubles they had been having with several of the teens, being only 18 and 19 themselves, they didn't have the authority needed to deal with the situation well. But the stories made me a bit nervous. As the kids started filing onto the bus Dot quickly hit it off with a group of young boys about ages 6-8 who were going to have a rock band one day and decided that Dot could be their manager or groupie or something. Meg befriended two girls who sat behind her, I think they were twins. And I got to meet the sweetest little girl named Diana. When I first started talking with her I couldn't get much of an answer and what little she did say was so quiet and muffled I could understand her. But through pestering her with questions I finally got her to start talking. Unfortunately she asked if I would be on the bus next week and it broke my heart to tell her no, that I'd be back home. I could literally see her withdraw from me at that point. When I had met in the morning with Andrea about Metro Kidz she suggested that I observe the kids program at church that evening so I asked my little friend Diana if she would show me where the kids program meets. When the bus stopped the kids rushed to get off and so I waited my turn but I could see Diana waiting on the steps of the building for me. It was so sweet. I was turned away from the kids program - no one is allowed who hasn't been through orientation - understandably but I was bummed. More so because I hadn't been able to say 'good-bye' to Diana.

I found the rest of my team inside the main auditorium for church. I still can't quite get over the "showiness" of the church and especially the worship. A Christian mosh pit during church worship??? Hey if it brings people in and reaches their target audience - sweet! I wouldn't choose it personally. The pastor was introducing all the groups at the Dream Center. He made a big to-do over the England team and challenged them to a soccer game the next day. Of course they got up and started singing as usual. Then Canada was introduced and they got up on stage and sang the Canadian anthem. Everyone laughed. Team Colorado was up next and Pastor Matt requested a song from them as well, they suggested the US anthem at which point Pastor Matt had all of the American teams come up and sing. It was all quite amusing. Then the guest speaker got up and started his talk with a story about a parrot who kept saying, "Whoopee Charlie! Let the good times roll!" which ended up being his them for the whole talk. After church we walked back to the Dream Center and played games - Mafia and Mao. Don't let Corbin play Mao.

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