It was an exciting nine days with nine exciting people. At the end of the first day, filled with nervous introductions and traveling 1,600 miles, there was a sense of comfort amongst the team members. We were ready for a week of service, new experiences and searching for photo ops with Rachel. Arriving to Los Angeles two days early meant we could explore this lively city, so different from our Midwest college town. A tour of the Warner Brothers Studio, hike to the Hollywood sign, stroll on Hollywood Boulevard, exploration of The Last Bookstore and introduction to Pauley Perrette at church, all prepared us to give back to this city that we fell in love with so quickly. Our mission for the week was to help and learn about organizations in the area that served the homeless community. This brought us to Project Angel Food, Homeboy, Habitat Restore, Union Rescue Mission, Alexander House and MEND. Many times we felt like the work we were doing was insignificant, but if we opened our eyes just a little wider, it was clear that God was among us. Doran’s broad smile as she joked with the cook at Project Angel Food. Jackie’s sense of accomplishment after building furniture at the Habitat Restore. Abby and Taylor’s satisfaction while organizing at Union Rescue Mission. Brian’s ability to connect to a cook at Alexander House. These are just examples of how these students didn’t just impact lives, but how their lives were changed. We came to Los Angeles thinking that we could make a huge difference in a broken city, but it wasn’t long before we had the realization that we really couldn’t do anything.
Midway through the week we were given the challenge to break into small groups and find dinner with only a few dollars. Several groups made signs, asked for donations or persuaded restaurants. We thought we were being creative when we remembered there was a church in the area that served food on Tuesdays, but a mile and a half later reminded us they only served lunch. Another two miles brought us to a high-end retail store where a shelter had moved from just a week prior. One more mile and we arrived at yet another wrong address. The amount of frustration and devastation that ran through our minds as we realized we wouldn’t be eating that night was incomparable. But we were determined the night wouldn’t be wasted. We approached Mitch, a man in his mid-twenties who came to LA to pursue music, but was now experiencing homelessness. After simply asking him to tell us about his story, we heard about the hope and beauty that he still had despite the broken system he was stuck in. Giving him the few dollars we had didn’t feel like enough after the impact he made on our hearts, but knowing he had our prayers was plenty to bring a smile to his face as we said goodbye.
No matter what we did these jobs would have been accomplished and these people would still be without homes. But despite that, God is still at work. The relationships that these students built with this community, that’s what made a difference. With each question they asked, laugh they shared and conversation they had, God was softening hearts to truly acknowledge one another. At the end of the week we walked away with posters from the Chinese Theater, sand in our toes from Santa Monica and Madi’s comedy routine memorized, but most importantly we walked away with the challenge to continue ministry. We can’t fix Los Angeles, but that’s not our job. Our mission now is to change our community back home. To share our story, tell of our heartbreak and to initiate progress.