Class Journal #2 Fuller Visit's Skid Row

June 29, 2004
Class Journal #2

We arrived in Skid Row, LA’s Homeless “Containment” district this morning at about 9:00 am to find at least 10 people sleeping on the sidewalk.  One person had a tent fixed to the fence and created somewhat of a small shelter about 7 feet long and 3 inches wide, with crates underneath the tent keeping certain parts of the tents from touching the ground.  I looked at those who were awake and curiously looking at us, the 13 students from upper-class Pasadena, clean, toting backpacks and smiling down in one of the saddest parts of LA; I smiled, said hello and intentionally looked at those who were attentive, many smiled and said good morning, no of the ask for money or approached us in any threatening ways, it was human to human interaction.  People really live this way, as many as 10,000 a night in Skid row sleep on the streets and/or are homeless.  There are only 20,000 residents in this district, and with 50% on the streets every night skid row earns some scary reputations all across the country.  I learned within the first 15 minuets of being there that people, real live people, live in Skid Row, Skid Row is only terrible because these people it has become a dumping ground for LA, in order to hide its homelessness.  With laws that actually make homeless illegal, police pick up homeless people from around to “financial district” and drop the off in the containment area.  A place where no one wants to be, but unfortunately for those who don’t want to be there and have little resources, they have little power in getting out.

The most impactful time we experienced today came from being with Tim and Grady at the Central City Community Church of the Nazarene.  We learned about some of the poor politics of Downtown Los Angeles and the many struggles with finding housing for the homeless in the area.  Many slum lords own hotels in the area and allow the poor of Skid Row to live for cheaper rent, in terrible conditions, many rooms do not have their own bathrooms and are often located next to prostitutes and drug dealers.  One of the hardest things to deal with is finding sufficient housing for families.  The hotels in the area that even allow families to stay in their facilities charge $800-1200 a month which most families in middle class can barely afford let alone those who are homeless and have no jobs.  Many of the landlords play a game with the residents called “the 28 day shuffle”  that is they uproot the poor from their places of residence every 28 days and move them to different rooms or kick them out in order to keep them from sustaining any kind of “renters rights” that the city allows occupants after 30 days stay in any apartment complex.  I was glad to hear and learn from the stories that Tim and Grady told us, because it opened my eyes to the multi-layered problems that homeless people face within the system.  Tim stated succinctly that, “We can judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable.”

I felt that out of the three places we went today, CCCN, Exposition Park Nazarene and Faith in Christ Ministries that CCCN was the most important for me to see because they challenged me most directly with the importance of relating to those in the city as real people, as individuals with stories, hurts, pains, hopes and dreams.  They interact with those of Skid Row on a one-to-one basis, they don’t have lines of people waiting for free giveaways each morning, in fact they don’t have lines at all.  They answer the problem of “there are so many people that need help and so few laborers to do it by doing just the opposite that one may expect.  Instead of doing like many churches and rescues missions, they do not line people up like cattle and throw food and clothing their way, rather they seek to relate to people one at a time.  They desire to really learn and know those who they are serving.  One way to say it may be, that they are not ministering to but they are ministering with those around them.  In other words, they see themselves as part of on going story in skid row, they see themselves as learning and being impacted by those who live their just as much as they seek to help them.  This is why Grady said that there are only 40-50 kids in their program at a time, because that is all they can handle, that is the maximum amount of kids that they can get to really and truly know.

It seems that his type of city ministry, the relation type, works best, because out of all the programs and ministries we have experienced thus far CCCN is the one that has the most amount of people remaining apart of the ministry in leadership roles, they have many kids in their high school internship programs, their worship band is filled with residence of Skid Row and there are many other examples of them empowering those they are serving to be apart of helping others, and ultimately fulfilling God’s call in their own lives.  This empowering has also lead to many success stories of those who have been able to get back on their feet and become integrated back into mainstream society.

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Inner Change Journal #4

Journal #4
July 1, 2004

Today, I began to have that camp feeling arriving with everyone around 9:15, groggy, people feeling more comfortable, and more personal with one another.  Today was a day to think about getting personal with the city.  Two things stand out – our talks about the shift from parish ministry to commuter church and our chat with Willie from innerChange.

While at CCCN we talked about the church’s shift from being a parish style ministry to a commuter or demographic style church (that is a church where people drive from any length away and feel no desire to be apart of the actual neighborhood of the church).  There were some who stated that the commuter style of church is now acceptable and in some ways unavoidable whereas other said that some combination of both is the best.  I understand that to have a church only made up of the community may be somewhat exclusive and thus we should never deny others the participation of being apart of our faith communities but I do see something wrong with passively accepting commuter style churches.

I think at the core values of the church, there should be a commitment to being a community church.  If we as a church work within our community, invite those through means of relationships, and serve within our community a church will most likely tend to be made up of those people within a given area, we will be a parish style church.  If we drive hours away from our home to work, focus on relationships outside our community, neglect service to our neighbors or focus solely on serving through foreign missions or ministries that are outside our community we will become a commuter church.  I believe there is experiential and Biblical evidence for this.  First the Christ did ministry where he could walk, now granted there were no cars, but the Scriptures are clear about his focused ministry to certain locations.  It wasn’t until the missionary efforts of the Apostles that the focus began to spread out.

Secondly, the reason why I believe that Christ’s model of doing ministry within a neighborhood or easily accessed place is because as we live in a community we know the story, character and trials of that community.  We become close to or personally involved with the stories of those we interact with.  A church that knows its surroundings is better equipped to not only serve it but first of all to love it.  If I serve in a place where I can walk to or a place that I see regularly it is more regularly in mind my, more readily available in my prayers and more often on my heart.  If I drive into a church from a long way out I see nothing of those things happening in the surrounding community, it is easier to shut out the concerns of the neighbors and thus it is more likely that I will have little to no concern in proclaiming the Kingdom of God to that place.  This point of being personally involved is further clarified with what I learned from Willie today.

Willie, a one time Skid Row resident, now rents a room in a hotel and has a job.  Willie was the first person we talked to this week that has actually been homeless, so his insight was in many ways the most valuable we have received.  The main theme that I heard out of his story was, that the church needs to get personally involved in the lives of the poor.  He (and Norma another lady who had a similar story of working out of poverty) spoke against those who believe that programs and projects serve to help the poor.  He said that many Christians think that by going to Skid Row and feeding the poor once a month they are doing the will of God, or that through some social service project Christ’s will is being done.  Willie explained from his own experience that all this does is objectify the poor; it makes them a project, a recipient of someone’s heavy conscience.  The person becomes nothing more than a “good deed.” The poor do not need more programs, nor do they need more salvation messages preached to them.

One person in the class said that the ultimate goal of God is to have his word spread to everyone, to a Quaker this is faulty thinking, God has already informed everyone of himself, what we as Christians are called to do is proclaim his Kingdom come – this is done through serving others, advocating justice for others, sacramental living as well as teaching and sharing about the knowledge of Christ.  I think this is where Evangelicals get lost, instead of viewing God salvation as working through various modes of obedient living, they cut out everything and go straight to preaching a message of salvation and repentance, as if to say, “forget about every facet of your life and just believe!”  We are hole beings, influenced by environment, economy, education, race, physical needs, emotional needs, etc – and the Christ calls us to serve each of these areas not simply ignore them and focus solely on an altar call.  It reminds me of the way the slaveholders treated their slaves, when they preached a salvation message to the slaves but did nothing to better any other part of their existence as if they were completely separate things.  What real people need is real transforming relationships.

Willie said that what the poor need is not another Bible thumping preach, many know the Bible better than us in Seminary, many have accept Christ 50 or 60 times, what they need is a friend.  Someone who loves them, some who seeks to be a positive and affirming voice to them who have suffered immense pains throughout life and who have lost all hope in this world.  Willie said that the way he got off the streets, was not through some church program but through real people who meet with him on the streets, who desired to get to know him and who spoke life back into his soul to help him get on the right track.  Now he is off the streets, following Christ and helping love others who are where he was.  A church that is parish oriented has more opportunity to come face-to-face with real hurting people, people who need loved and given hope.  Until the church comes face-to-face with the poor, there will be no personal investment and only programs and projects that will continue to do what they have always done, change little and perpetuate the disease of homelessness and poverty.

See earlier posts from this set

short quotes

A: Dang it – I thought you were someone else.  Why do you always look at people as if you grew up with them or something?  Don’t you think it is misleading?

Don’t you think that it is a little peculiar that you look at people at all?  Why not keep your eyes on yourself?

B: I’ve tried but you’re more interesting.  How do you live with yourself?  How do you live with the self-conscious preoccupations?

A:  You’re the one staring at me like a long lost puppy – really – do you mind?

new worlds

toying with new ideas about old worlds – old dreams – and old mistaken roads. will the time come that we no longer look to the past to understand today.