Our youngest child, Caleb, just graduated from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. He has taken a job with an aviation company in California and lives in a suburb of Los Angeles close to the LA Dream Center. The Dream Center is a church pastored by Tommy and Matthew Barnett that is helping restore lives in inner city Los Angeles. This church reaches into the depths of darkness and shows the love of Christ in a very real way.
Caleb has been volunteering at the Dream Center when he has time off from his job. Last week he went with a group of people to skid row in downtown LA. I would like to share his thoughts with you.
Encompassing me is stink and filth. It overtakes my senses – all of them. This smell prompts me to strictly remind myself to touch nothing. Who knows what could end up on my hands? My peripheral vision tells a story more pronounced and audible than the words of the mumbling passers-by. I sit down on the curb by a black man named Norman. In a tattered plastic sack next to him are items of value – scraps of metal, two un-matching wheels, a plastic bottle, and a broken plastic clothes hanger. I introduce myself and give him a bright orange flyer. He takes it and places it under his foot. I assume it will eventually go into the sack. People are constantly walking by. Sometimes many, sometimes only a few. It resembles a human river, and I find it odd that such a scene of desolation and hopelessness does so. The smell is still tickling and offending my nostrils. Cut this place and it will bleed. It will bleed HIV and cocaine and dumpster babies and stories of triumph and disappointment and empty water bottles and brightly colored tracks. I am at the base of tall city buildings and I am at the base of a very large and menacing pit. Perhaps I am internally at the base of an awakening or awareness. Take a dictionary and you will not find the word “hope” in it on these streets. It not-so-magically disappears. There may be tricks, but there is no magic here - only hard, hot pavement littered with trash and humanity’s waste. Is there an answer? Or only rows and rows of questions and decision and results? All have taken a turn for the worst. For each, the prognosis is terminal. I am suffocating and I want to run away, but the setting is gripping me tightly. The graffiti, the missing teeth, the cigarettes and fruit. My heart is creasing, ripping, tearing, but not in the way one might think. Nothing dramatic or life-changing. So much on my mind and so little I can do. I am disconnected. If I take my shirt off and rub my body against the mission walls will I collapse from the weight of the situation? Will I soak it in? As it rises from the concrete and emanates from the dirty bodies will it make its way into my pores? This place, “Skid Row,” is a symbol of brokenness and pain, of fear and anger, of humanity on a bad day. It is sin with no skin on. Here the devil doesn’t dress up. -- Caleb Brown
We all go through a process of change. Sometimes, it is a defining moment!