God and Skid Row

17 11 2011

I had wanted to visit the Sunday afternoon service on skid row in LA offered to the sidewalk residents by my friend Bowen’s church. Inviting my nephew Daniel and his dad Rich to come along was a way to share what I expected to be an experience that would deepen our gratitude. So we drove to Second and San Pedro, circled several blocks around the Rescue Mission and got, in the process, an idea of the scope of poverty in lines of “cardboard condos” and tents. We left the car in the Mission underground lot, found our way up a stairwell, only to discover there was no way out. The door behind us self-locked, the passageway above was locked down, and the door to the outside world was marked, “Do not Open this Door.” The angry homeless guy on the other side of the door hollered for us to open it for him–enough proof as to why we should not! But Bowen called and said he was tied up with service preparations; could we just make our way through that door and find the parking lot where the meeting was about to begin? That led to the first of two God-sightings. We were afraid. But we paused for a brief prayer for God’s protection and walked out the door. We strode confidently through the courtyard, hiding our insecurity, took a right turn onto the sidewalk jammed with people, and arrived at the outdoor meeting place with huge relief.


We found seats and waited while a member of the praise team tested the microphones. Soon an African-American lady, quite obviously not a worship team member but a skid row regular, approached the front to volunteer her services as a microphone tester. “Can you hear this!?” she shouted into the mic.  I cringed inside when she asked, “May I sing a little song?” Before the staff could object, she began to sing and in so doing gave me yet another God-sighting. “We are standing on holy ground,” she sang with a beautiful voice, perfectly pitched. “And I know that there are angels all around.” I thought of the war that waged in the hearts and tormented minds on skid row. I smiled at the thought of angels everywhere in that place. “Let us praise Jesus now, for we are standing in his presence, on holy ground.”


By this time, another lady had come to the front aisle with arms raised in praise. And I thanked God for the gift of that moment, a reminder that God has no preference for suburban churches where predictability reigns. I thought again why we must get out of our comfort zones, why we see Christ in new ways through the eyes of others, and how God can shine His light in any place, no matter how dark.


The rest of the meeting was fine, but I had already heard from God before the opening prayer. That treacherous ground had become holy.



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