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Finding Jesus on Skid Row

Excerpt taken from the journal of senior Michael Kainer, as he served on Rio Lindo Adventist Academy’s mission trip to Los Angeles and Las Vegas in March, 2014.

The theme of the mission trip was "Love Does" meaning love is not just a noun, but an active verb that calls us to do something.
The theme of the mission trip was “Love Does” meaning love is not just a noun, but an active verb that calls us to do something.
Students prepared each day with spending time in thought, prayer, and journaling.
Students prepared each day with spending time in thought, prayer, and journaling.

Tonight I went out to Skidrow not knowing what it had in store for me. Honestly. Looking around it didn’t seem like it was going to be much different from what I do at Open Table. All I expected was to minister to the homeless and give them some food and be on my way.

But something was different. I had and still do have a lot of things on my mind. The concept of being true to myself has always haunted me ever since I started high school. I don’t know what has made it so hard for me. Maybe over thinking things has made me a coward. I couldn’t even tell you what causes my problems, but this night really was a jolt for me. No lie. Something hit me after going to Skidrow that I hope will hit me more and more as I experience life.

We had just started going down the street and had already visited a couple homeless people. We came to a pretty crowded area with a collection of people ranging from young black females to old white homeless bums. Steve Martin (Community Service Director) was our main conversation starter. It seemed to me that he knew exactly who to talk to and how to start out a conversation, almost like he had the magic touch of a man who had done this type of job for years.

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One of the LA projects was packing and delivering bags of groceries to local residents in need of food.

We came across a tall black man wearing a blue hat and black hoodie. Steve did his usual starting comment: “How are you doing tonight?”. The man at first gave no sign of contempt or hostility (which was a good thing in my eyes) and seemed like he was going to be like any other homeless man I had met: loud, smelly, rude, possibly crazy, and whatever repulsed me.

As we got to talking to him the conversation started to get sour. He told us straight up that he wasn’t buying all our Christian “garbage” and that he wasn’t interested in what we had to say. What amazed me the most was that he was determined not to make any of this easy for us. I knew that if it was me by myself I would have broken really soon, but thank Jesus that other people were there with me. Steve handled that like a pro. If the conversation didn’t look too bright he’d switch topics until we got him to open up. I wish I had brought my notebook to take notes because by the time we had to move on, we had to be pulled away because he couldn’t stop talking to us. I would have stayed for so much longer if it hadn’t been for that.

He told us about why he was there on the streets and how he had lost custody of his child and was trying to get him back that day but couldn’t. He told us about his love for playing guitar and how he had bought and sold three guitars in four days. I couldn’t say I believed him 100%, but if it was true, then praise God that he was able to bless so many people with a new guitar.

Something he also told us was the way he ministered to other people and how fake our church can be. He disliked how no one was doing anything about the people on the streets and how we tended to neglect the people that needed the most love. The way he was talking and the message he was giving us, it almost seemed like he was a real preacher. It amazed me how this guy was giving a straight, true, honest perspective of his experience with Jesus but had been discovered by so few people.

Driving back on the bus, I thought about my experience there and how I could apply what I had learned in my everyday life. The majority was me harboring over my own mistakes and failures. But in that moment I had a vision that I will never forget. I thought to myself: “what if I’m not being honest with myself and others?” ”What if the problems I have lie in the way I interact with other people?” Thinking more about this made me realize that my problem has been right in front me the whole time.

Students prayed with people as they felt called to, and listened to many struggles and pain.
Students prayed with people as they felt called to, and listened to many struggles and pain.

I live my life with boredom and monotony and never know how to put more spark in it. But it’s also deeper than that. A lot of what I do is empty, unsatisfactory, and lonely. I often find myself in a position where I feel alone or left out, awkwardly stumbling on myself and never finding the words to say. I see the things around me that make me realize more and more that I am missing something. But you know something? That talk with the Booker T. (that was his name) was something that made me realize the answer to my problem.

People are in charge of their own happiness.

In that moment of flashback, I could see why I was so nervous and why I couldn’t find the words to say. I wasn’t being honest with myself and other people. My lack of honesty had made me all empathy and no backbone. I care for one person but then never do anything to help them. I take too much time thinking about doing something instead of actually doing it. Booker T. wasn’t looking to be ministered to or prayed for at all. All he wanted was for someone to talk with him and have a conversation with him about his relationship with Jesus, the personal Jesus that had been with him in his times of trouble and times of triumph. It really got me thinking about how if one homeless man like him can rock my world and make me rethink the way I’ve been living, then what can I do as a proclaimed Christian to shine my light to those around me?

One thing that Booker T will never know is how much his testimony touched my life. I don’t think he was looking to win us over to his beliefs, but I do think that he wanted us to see that being a Christian means more than just trying to help the homeless and those in need. It’s also about being real with people and showing them that you aren’t all just about smiles and prayer, but that you’re also showing them the one true Jesus that people need to see. We have to be honest with ourselves and then with others in order to really reach non-believers. If we aren’t giving our heart out to people and being true to ourselves, what kind of message our going to be sending? Not one of love that’s for sure.

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