The sidewalks were cracked and littered with filth and the stench of desperation. People were laying on the ground next to buildings hoping to stay warm in whatever makeshift covering they could find and praying that the refuse they were depending on for life would not be stolen from them by someone while they slept. When you have walked this part of Los Angeles at night a few times you begin to realize that a person sleeping in his own urine is a defense mechanism more than just a person who doesn’t care. We would take groups down here regularly to pass out food and blankets and offer servings of compassion to anyone who had a way to hold on to it. But this night was different.
Each night we go and set up a location where within moments of arrival flocks of people would start standing in line. After a few minutes, another of the leaders and I would step away and scout out some of the even less desirable areas where people who were in even worse shape would be. Our goal was to see if it made sense to take small groups into these parts to hand out food and water or if safety was an issue that night. Fearlessness and foolishness are two sides of the same coin at times. We walked out of sight of the main group and down a side street. We saw an alley off to the side that was dark but about 100 feet in you could see cardboard boxes and signs of life. We brazenly walked in and got about 50 feet in when several men came out to meet us, or more specifically stop us. At the same time several others moved in behind us to make sure we understood they were in charge. From where we were we could see the women and children farther down the alley and the far end was blocked off. This was their home where they protected their families and we just walked in the front door unannounced. The myriad of ways this could have played out were as dark as the street itself but I learned a long time ago that compassion speaks louder than fear. I held out some water and offered some food explaining we were from a church with only a desire to show God’s love. The guy who was obviously in charge silently motioned and the area opened back up. We left food and water with them and took away a lesson in humility.
What we saw as a filthy alley, they saw as a home they could defend. What we saw as people who needed help, they saw as people who needed protection. What we saw as lost, they saw as hope. Perspective changes circumstances, events, and even our understanding of the truth. We see things from our perspective with a mission to communicate the power of God to “the lost” but need to incorporate the perspective that “the lost” don’t always see themselves that way. As a matter of fact, our perspective created by that word sees them in a way that prevents us from seeing the humanity of the person first. The overriding fact is they are a creation of God. Are we seeing that and communicating that in our discussions of “lostness”? Our perspective is one of a clinical understanding of the text. There are two groups. Group A knows God and has “the truth”. Group B does not and needs “the truth”. We keep presenting it in a way that explains the facts as if people will adopt truth just by hearing it. The problem is that Group B understands “the truth” from their perspective which we see as at odds with our perspective so we end up arguing about “the truth” rather than communicating about the Creator who gave life abundantly through his son Christ. What we don’t see is that many times we lose the ability to speak effectively because we don’t understand and respect the perspective of the people we are ministering to.
Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is pride. Maybe it is an exaggerated sense of justice. Whatever it is, we need to change it. I am not advocating we change our practices of communicating within the church. If we are experiencing the love of God and healthy worship in the church, there is no need to change. How we present it to the outside world however needs to change. If the message is more than the words, the message needs to be the focus and not the words. If the perspective is the thing that is blocking us from communicating Christ to the world, we need to stop looking for excuses and change our perspective. The people in the alley were doing the best they could under the circumstances they had to live in. How they got there and the mistakes they made doing so are irrelevant. They still needed help. Maybe by seeing life through another perspective, we might learn that better and become better able to spread the real truth, that God is love and our message should be his love and not our voice.