Union Rescue Mission.

It was a day filled with humbling and reflection.  I woke up at 7 am (on a weekend – that’s gotta be a record) to go train at Checkmat La Habra at 8 am, and I began my day with some good old butt-kicking.  And by butt-kicking, I mean my butt was being kicked (figuratively, because it’s a grappling sport) by pretty much every training partner I sparred with.  However, I’m grateful to my teammates for teaching me things here and there to help me improve my game; they really do a good job of making me feel like we’re not fighting with one another, but fighting for one another.  After six or seven sparring sessions, I rushed home, showered, and raced off to Union Rescue Mission.

When I got there – in a surprisingly quick twenty-eight minutes – I immediately began noticing the streets were more and more populated with the homeless, and I began to realize that this wasn’t just some walk-in-the-park, go-home-and-never-think-about-it-again type of outreach event.  There are actually lives that are depending on URM to get by day to day.  I saw Andrew in the underground parking, and we eventually found our way to the kitchen (after much confusion about where the other folks were and where we were actually serving), and we began to put on our gloves, hairnets, and aprons.  The first thing we were asked to do was to remove bags of taco meat or enchilada meat from steaming water and empty out the contents into metal trays.  Bag after bag was dumped in as we were helped by a resident whom we’ll call Denny (just in case there are legal issues with putting his real name).  Denny told us about how he enrolled himself in the rehab program at URM and said that they were giving him really good help with it, suggesting that if we knew anyone who needed help with addiction, this was a good place to bring them; I let him know that we didn’t know anyone who’d need the service at the moment.  Eventually, we looked up and saw the others had arrived, and we said hi to them.  Once we finished emptying the meat into the trays, they had us crack eggs into buckets, and Daniel and Andrew and I joked around a little as we were doing so – they’d later use the eggs for fried rice.  After that, I left Andrew and Daniel and went over to Denny to ask him if I could help with anything, and we got to making pizzas that they would be serving the next day.  I mainly sprinkled the beef sausage on top of the pizzas, and then Denny would pass me another pizza to cover – we must have made about fifty pizzas that were to be frozen before we were finished! Once the pizzas were taken care of, one of the main chefs motioned for me to ask another chef how I could help, and I found myself deep frying potstickers.  He demonstrated once, gave me some tips on how to know when to remove them and how to alternate sides of the deep fryer, and then he left for a little bit.  When he came back, he said, “You already got the hang of it!” and I laughed, thinking, “This is practically in my blood.”  I kept frying up potstickers until 1 pm, which was when our break started.

During break, Daniel, Alan, and Caleb found a basketball court, so naturally, we all got to hooping.  After a while, some of the residents at the URM center came in, and we got some three-on-threes going.  Daniel, Alan, and a resident we’ll call Russ were on one team, and Andrew, a resident we’ll call Kenyon, and I were on the other.  It was nice because we didn’t really have a chance to interact with the people being served by URM from the kitchen, and so even just being united by “ball is life” was an opportunity to learn about them a little bit and to just spend time with them.  We didn’t keep count, but Russ definitely torched our team.

After the break, we got back to the kitchen, and Alan, Daniel, and I were asked to shovel some chicken fried rice into metal trays which would be used for dinner.  Eventually, we plastic-wrapped the containers and then put a sheet of foil on top to keep them warm for dinner.  From here, I went back to opening up bags of enchilada meat, and Daniel and Alan were helping to wrap up enchiladas and label them.  When the clock hit the three o’ clock mark, we left.

What I realized from my time at URM was how casually it could all be done, and how frequently I had to be mindful of how I approached serving the homeless.  It almost seemed too brutal to make it a one-and-done situation, and I have a strong desire to come back next week or another week and continue serving and building relationships with the people working in the kitchen.  In a place where we’re directly serving the homeless, it’s difficult to continue philosophizing about reasons why they’re homeless or making sure that the theology was right as we walked past verses posted on the walls – being in such direct service demands a complete focus on producing a thoughtfully prepared product and a complete removal of self.  I saw how much less privileged people on Skid Row were than me, and in serving at URM, I found that there was very little thought spared for myself and my own comfort – there’s just really no space for it.  When we serve out of the overflow of knowing God’s goodness in our lives, whatever pride or success or self-approval that might come in the way completely disappears because, in contrast with the hardships our neighbors have to endure, there’s no longer any value left in those things; in the meantime, compassion reigns.  Matthew 25:35-40 came to mind, which reads: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”  

There’s still so much to be done, and yes, we can sit back and ponder (usually judgmentally and with little compassion) how the homeless got into the situations that they’re in.  However, there’s far more to be learned just by serving them and investing bit by bit in their lives.

This song was playing as I was driving to URM, and I think it’s fitting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TCh31xg4vA

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Empty Chairs and Active Tables.

Empty chairs and active tables,

smiling faces one by one,

pass by onto learning stables

we hope to spread His Son.

 

The day ever groweth longer

as the hours pass on by.

I am weak, but soon made stronger

as friends drop in and say hi.

 

The struggle was never about me

but for His growth on this campus.

Faces colored ever slightly

drawn on the Master’s great canvas.

 

He is with us in our approach

the hi’s, hello’s, a moment?

For us to speak without a reproach

to turn one into His proponent.

 

The last hour is fast coming

the bright rays shine down in furor.

Potential choirs are a-humming

at the task that we’ve endured.

I Don’t Want to Understand.

God works, and He works everywhere.  If I ever doubted – or doubt in the future – His omnipresence, may this post bring me back to the truth.  Two short stories occurred that are so random, but so clearly God working in my life.

On Friday night, I finally got to go fishing (for real this time, not just walking into my potential death at every corner).  At first, I only caught a lizardfish the entire night, but when Luke came up with the genius idea to go surf fishing,

“Are you okay with catching nothing?”

“Yeah sure, I caught a lizardfish today already so it’s chill.”

After checking the crab net and reeling up a less-than-palm-sized crab, we packed up our stuff to go to shallower, more enticing waters.  We set up the two longest rods with one hook rigs, which Luke taught me how to make properly with a sliding sinker, and then we put on our squid bait.  I went to the restroom and came back, and Luke said to keep an eye on my rod because there seemed to be interest.  I proceeded to play Flow Free.  After seeing the nibbles he was referring to, he (after going to the restroom) came back and said that the hook I chose to put on the rig was one of a few that he used when he caught his shovel nose guitarfish.  My rod only got nibbles for about an hour, and at 12:56:

“Wanna call it a day at 1:15?”

“Hmm sure. What time is it right now?”

“Like almost one.”

“Hmm…okay then.”

Dejection was in the air for sure, as both of us had secretly hoped to catch something.  I cast out my line one last time and just waited.  Suddenly, after what seemed like five minutes, my rod fell against the pier.  I looked back, expecting to see Luke in the vicinity having accidentally kicked it, but upon seeing no one, I realized that my line was actually being yanked by something on the other end.  Quickly, I took up the rod and began pulling up and reeling in as he instructed.  It got to a point where it seemed like

“Dang…I think my line is stuck…”

“Oh really? Wait, does it feel like you’re pulling in a realllly heavy something?”

“Hmm…*reels* now that you mention it, it does!”

Eventually on the surface of the water, a white patch appeared.  It was a ray!  And it was not a small one either.  Luke swiftly moved to use treble hooks to try and simulate reeling up the fish with two rods, but the effort was mangled when it got tangled with my line.  Thinking quickly on his feet, he used the crab net and let it down quickly, hoping to get there before my line snapped from the tension.  I realized what he was trying to do and then lifted the ray up out of the water as he scooped the net underneath the ray and started yanking up, with me reeling in all the while.  It was about two feet long and it came at a time when we had both given up.  I realized that this is when God is able to use us and surprise us in our lives.  It was such a small event in the grand scheme of things, but it made me appreciate how God works – His power is made perfect in weakness.

The next thing was the fact that for Saturday night’s gospel meeting, Brother Huang, who serves in the prison ministry in Taiwan, was going to be sharing.  He had previously shared many times at Westminster, so I went into the night’s event jaded from thinking that I had already heard all the stories.  However, after hearing the testimonies shared by the young men that Brother Huang was working with and hearing miniature biographies from one of the prison ministry workers – who was an ex-heroine addict himself and shared his own testimony – I found myself moved afresh by what I heard.  God really showed me how He gives us so many opportunities to reach out; we need only grasp them.  As I was helping the reset the format of the church seating arrangements, Alan came to give me dessert by request of my mom.  I smiled and told him to serve our guests from Taiwan first, which led me to breaking out of my bubble of insecurity and speaking to one of the kids, telling him to please take the dessert.  Eventually, Sheng Hao, a boy who had trouble staying in school because teachers found his incessant singing a huge distraction to the class, asked the boy I talked to what I said.  Seeing this in the corner of my eye, I had a sense that I was going to talk to him.  He came over and we made eye contact, and he thanked me for being so welcoming to them.  I, in turn, thanked him for coming and sharing his story with all of us.  We eventually began chatting, and I even joked with him about having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for singing.  We exchanged names and became friends, and I learned that apparently, his assigned English name in was also Ben.  When they were called to leave, I invited him to come back again some time and gave praise to God in my heart for opening up that door.  I also learned that the son of Brother Huang was going to be serving the Chinese-speaking ministry in the Bay area at the church that Jeremy Lin attended.  I remembered that Daniel also went to that church, and so I approached him and asked him to keep a lookout for D. Yeh.  And to wrap it all up, the stirring messages that were shared showed me how blessed I was to live in the environment that I lived in, to have a whole (as opposed to broken) family, and that I could have the privilege of hearing their stories and – as with Sheng Hao – become a part of their incredible journeys in Christ.  I normally wouldn’t have even approached them, but God really worked in a way that opened up the opportunity to do so.  I don’t understand how God works, but after tonight, I don’t even want to.  All I know is that He is capable of doing works within me that I thought impossible, and I pray to walk by faith so that He continues opening doors and that I am bold to open them.