As the end of the year approaches, I can’t help but look back at the many trials I have personally gone through and how God has restored my faith over and over again. Many of you know that several months ago I had three strokes in my brain and almost lost my life. Just a normal day hanging out at the mall which became the day I almost lost my life. Out of nowhere, I lost all speech and was rushed to the hospital. God is so good to bring me through that with no impact of speech or paralysis.
Three days after I miraculously recovered, a piece of dome of our iconic church auditorium, Angelus Temple, fell from the ceiling taking out an entire row of church seats. Thankfully, it happened when the space was empty, but it left us facing significant renovation costs, and without a church venue; forcing us to find a temporary solution of a location and time change for our services.
Just when I thought these were the worst things that could happen in one year, I receive a notification that three precious men on the University of Virginia’s football team were shot on campus where my daughter, Mia, attends college. A heartbreaking loss of life and trauma for all the students and parents on edge for twelve hours as they searched for the shooters.
Have you ever felt like trauma finally got the best of you? I felt that way after all these back to back trials.
The great need for food and housing is our new reality
Parallel to these events, the Dream Center has been flooded with greater need for food and housing for so many individuals and families in need. A daily crisis of need that has never stopped since the outbreak of Covid-19. We’ve basically accepted this ongoing need as our new reality. In the midst of all these trials, God continuously sends me sparks of hope. He continues to give me the opportunity to be a blessing to what I love the most– the Dream Center! I felt weary from living in three years of crisis ministry with the unprecedented and relentless need in Los Angeles. But this year, I felt extra weary from the many challenges that happened all at once.
However these are the days of miracles and together, we can help individuals and families find hope again. Here’s some important lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning), especially this year, after serving in this city that I love since 1994:
1) You need to spend an abundant amount of quality time among those you wish to serve
Having lofty goals of solving big problems is important, and remembering we serve a God that will bless our righteous efforts is critical. But another element that is absolutely essential is spending weeks, months, and even years building personal relationships with the distraught individuals you hope to serve.
If you want to help an unhoused woman, you need to meet her where she’s at, spend time with her, and take time to listen to her story. If you want to rescue an abused teen, you need to give them time and space to get comfortable, be equally vulnerable with them, and be willing to spend countless hours of quality time with them before you can begin to mentor them and help them heal.
Before you utter one word of advice, just listen. Be a genuine friend, a shoulder to cry on, and you’ll be blown away at the level of impact you can have moving forward.
2) You need to squeeze out of yourself every ounce of grace and compassion you can muster
We’ve all heard this countless times throughout our lives, but success doesn’t happen overnight. And this is absolutely true if you’re in the market to help someone overcome a drug addiction. It is a slow and painful process of leading someone away from something that has been their crutch for so long. Guilt and shame will be of no use. Medications will not be a quick fix.
It will take months and often years for a full recovery to take place. Many setbacks will happen, repeated disappointments are a near certain guarantee. The journey for you will be endless grace for each slip up, each moment of weakness. Forgiveness and reconciliation, over and over again, will be a pattern you’ll need to master.
When you feel like giving up on someone you love, ask God to give you the strength to show love and offer mercy each and every time. You won’t be able to do that on your own, that ability will come from him alone.
3) You need to provide a spiritual solution, not just a physical or emotional one
It’s true, we must meet the physical needs of those around us. Jesus made this clear over and over again. He told us in Matthew 25:36, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me,” referring to anyone who his disciples helped as helping Jesus himself.
But this is only one part of the journey. As we are reminded in Ephesians 6:12, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We have to help everyone we serve to understand they have a soul. And the soul needs to be transformed as much as the body does.
Leading someone away from substance abuse, a harmful relationship, a destructive lifestyle, this will leave a void. The question is, are you prepared to show them how to fill that void? Are you prepared to remind them that each grasp at comfort and identity in someone else, or something else, is a reminder that they are truly longing for the love of God the Father?
Please don’t skip this step. Remember that Jesus’ promise to give us life, and life more abundantly, is the only permanent solution for whatever problem we’re looking to solve. This year His promise and reassurance helped me get through some of the worst challenges I’ve ever faced personally. But I never ceased to serve Him.
I want to encourage you to consider reaching out to someone in need that has been in your heart to serve. If you feel the urgency of those addicted to fentanyl and their cry for help or if your heart is breaking for that single mom and her children struggling with rent, food and basic necessities, take the bold step to help and be a miracle. Because when you set out to change a life, yours will be changed in the process as well.