It Matters to This One.

Last week, standing under a bridge in Long Beach, California with a plate of food in hand, I talked to a Vietnam veteran with two Bowie knives strapped to his legs. His tirade about the Federal Government was looping, so I interrupted him and asked his name.

“People call me Diablo,” he said.

“No sh*t,” I thought looking at the madness in his brown eyes.

Then trying to communicate something extra important, Diablo reached his index finger to touch my forehead, but I dodged it. Dream Center staff told us ahead of time, personal space is a good thing and lines are clearly drawn, so they can keep serving people who live under bridges.

Now, I’ve been as guilty as anyone for thinking snarky thoughts about homeless people who beg or are super drunk or high on the street.

“Why don’t they get a job and work like the rest of us.”

“Those people are there by choice.”

And it’s true, many people are homeless because they don’t like structure and don’t want to play by society’s rules.

But it’s also true that some are so far down, it’s impossible to get up without help, and that includes many who return from our wars with obvious and not-so-obvious damage.

According to the Center for American Progress, one in every seven homeless adults is a US Veteran; and Kaiser Health News reports the number of veterans using mental health services has jumped 34 percent since 2006. So the homeless guy you see begging at the intersection has a one in seven chance of being a US Veteran. Yikes!

Global problems seem to want global solutions, but I don’t have any. What can I do? Well, I just jumped in and Diablo scaled the problem down for me – to exactly one. I can handle one. I can feed one, I can listen to one.

starfish

(Photo credit: kevinzim)

Ever hear of the kid picking up starfish and throwing them back in the water? His father pointed out hundreds more stranded by the tide, noting how little his efforts would matter. The kid shrugged and said “well, it matters to this one” and chucked it back in the water.

I kind of imagine Jesus like that. He is the good shepherd who will leave the 99 in his flock to search for the lost one. Jesus stopped on a very busy day to heal one hemorrhaging woman; He stopped to heal a demon-possessed man living among the tombs and yet another man blind from birth.

So, I think it boils down to a choice of two paths – something I talk about a lot. Are we going to live like the kid throwing starfish back or like the Dad who, concerned about his son’s expectations, explains the futility of the effort.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

BTW – Visit Operation Dignity if you want to help out some vets for Christmas.

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See The Why Behind The What – LA Dream Center

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him how can the love of God be in him? I John 3:17

I’ve been hanging out in Watts and Compton all week, feeding people.

And I know I’m supposed to say about something deep about that – like the poor are beautiful and the light of Jesus shines in their eyes. And it does, because Jesus loves all of us the same, from the woman stepping out of her Bentley in West Hollywood to the Filipina grandma rolling a dirty stroller through the food line to pick up her frozen chicken and yams.

But there’s nothing deep to say. Poor and hungry people aren’t always grateful and sweet, sometimes they are demanding and they hustle you, which makes them very similar to rich and well-fed people. And there’s a lesson in that. We all have a story and we are all broken in different ways. Maybe it’s PTSD in the homeless veteran, molestation in the prostitute, illiteracy in the gang-banger or critical selfishness in me. As Nancy Alcorn founder of Mercy Ministries says, “there’s always a why behind the what” and Jesus cares about all of it.

So the LA Dream Center’s idea is a simple one. Go to them, feed them, find out what they need, try to get it, make friends and introduce them to Jesus. People here are clear-eyed about the enormity of the problem – 100,000 homeless people live in LA – but they don’t let it paralyze them, instead they get up, pray hard, load the truck, sort the food, pass it out, hug the people and repeat day in and day out.

Skid Row, Los Angeles

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it works. One by one, story by story, it works.

This morning I picked through a pallet of persimmons, looking for the best ones to take to Skid Row this afternoon.

Skid Row is home to about 10,000 homeless people and has the highest concentration of violent crime on the West Coast. Yet the Dream Center is there five days a week, feeding hot meals to the drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless veterans, the mentally ill and people who have just come up short.

And here’s what they say about it.

What could be a better place to shine the light, love and hope of Jesus then in the midst of such dark and dismal places?

For sure not everybody is called to do this kind of work. Some people go to Skid Row and some people send them. But if you are interested in helping the Dream Center rescue one life at a time you can donate here.