By Don Meyer
LOS ANGELES, CA (May 16, 2011) – “I lived just a couple of blocks from where we are standing – right down that street,” she said as we stood in the midst of famed Skid Row, just a stone’s throw from the Fred Jordan Center that serves the homeless in the nation’s second largest city.
“I never thought I would find myself living like this,” she explained, sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles with no roof over her head – and even worse, without any sense of hope.
Today was a different story, however, as she joined scores of volunteers from Covenant churches to serve a meal to hundreds of homeless individuals who, around mid-day, would begin to find their way to the Fred Jordan Center to hear a message of hope to feed their souls and a warm meal to curb the hunger.
The Saturday meal is a weekly ritual at the center. This particular Saturday concluded the three-day annual meeting of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church that began in a much different setting at Newsong Covenant Church in Irvine, a 30-45 minute drive south of the city. There, pastors and lay leaders had joined in worship and celebration, conducting the business of the conference and preparing themselves for the culmination of that event – hands-on service, putting their faith into action.
Judy is but one example of the reason why so many volunteers faithfully serve, week after week, at places like the Fred Jordan Center – and at other venues all over North America where Covenanters share the love of Christ in a variety of outreach initiatives.
Judy was born in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles at age nine. Her life seemed average by most standards – she grew up, was married and had two children. Pretty normal stuff until drugs entered the picture. Twenty-two years of drug abuse later, one child had been taken from her by the State and another had gone to live with a family member. Her husband had left, taking what possessions they had with him, and Judy found herself homeless.
What happened to the dream?
There was a small house not far from where she had been living, and once forced to leave her own apartment, she moved in for a time with a woman who regularly read the Bible to her. “I was scared to even leave the house – I didn’t even have enough energy to take a bath or do anything,” Judy recalled. “I was depressed.”
The kind woman who read scripture gave her a sense of hope. Judy determined to move forward with her life and went to a program to help her get off the drugs. “Actually, I went to several programs,” she explained. “It took a number of efforts.”
But, just as quickly as hope had appeared, it evaporated. Following an altercation, she ended up in prison for three years. “I hit bottom,” she said. “I was laying on my bed in the cell and heard a voice ask, ‘Are you done?’ I raised up off my cot thinking my cellmate must have said something to me, but no one was there – she was gone. I heard it again – ‘Are you done?’ ”
Perhaps it was the influence of the scriptures her friend had faithfully read to her. Judy isn’t sure. But, she believes it was God who spoke to her in that cell. “I just gave up and said yes, I am done. And my life has not been the same since.”
Following her release from prison, she was determined to remain drug-free. And with a beam in her eye, she proudly notes that on June 23 she will celebrate eight years of being clean.
“God has restored things in my life – he restored my mind and my heart,” she says, exuding a sense of joy that is unmistakable. She now works part-time for a woman who takes care of veterans. She also shares an apartment and expenses with another woman who has been drug-free for 10 years.
She now lives some distance away from the streets where she once lived, but keeps coming back as a volunteer to help feed homeless individuals and families.
“God cleaned me up,” she says with a smile as broad as the street on which we were standing. “I feel the need to give back.”
Around 800 individuals were served on the Saturday that Covenant conference volunteers concluded their annual meeting. The crowd was smaller than usual – normally, some 1,500 individuals are served.
A two-block section of the street in front of the center is closed to traffic. Volunteers scurry to set up a large stage at one end of the barricaded section, while others set up scores of round tables that seat eight individuals. The tables are covered and chairs set into place.
A musical group is playing a variety of upbeat Christian songs as the homeless begin to gather. At the appointed hour as preparations are complete, the gates are opened and the guests stream in, each greeted with a handshake or a hug. They come walking, in wheelchairs, with canes or walkers. Some seem to know each other well – a few appear to be experiencing something new. To see additional photos, click here.
After all have been seated, Willie Jordan, who with her husband Fred co-founded the center, takes the microphone to welcome the guests. The theme of her remarks is most appropriate – the next day (Sunday) would be celebrated as Mother’s Day. The guests are holding individual flowers they were given to honor mothers everywhere, especially their own.
Willie Jordan spoke of a mother’s love, telling those in attendance that she considers herself a mother to those on the streets. She recalled her own childhood and the influence of her mother who impressed on each child the message that God loves them.
She then introduced Leah O’Brien-Amico, a USA Softball Olympic gold medalist in 1996, 2000, 2004. Playing first base and outfield, she also is a two-time world champion, two-time Pan-American Games champion, and a three-time NCAA national champion. She serves as host for the Christian sports show “More Than Conquerors” on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
O’Brien-Amico shared a personal testimony of faith in Christ, reminding those gathered that there is something more precious than gold medals. Walter Contreras interpreted all of the messages for Spanish-speaking guests.
She told of her parents’ continual encouragement to excel and pursue her softball dream. “But, mother told me there is something even better than softball – that Jesus loves me. That I can go to heaven to be with him one day.” The medalist now tells her own three boys to love Jesus with all their hearts, stressing that success is not what matters. “Without Jesus, nothing matters.”
Under a cloudy sky that looked at times like a downpour waiting to happen, Efrem Smith concluded the time of meditation with a personal reflection. Smith serves as superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference.
He recalled that as a child, he was scared during storms. His mother would encourage him not to be afraid. Using Mark chapter four as a text, he pointed out that there can be peace during a storm, as happened when Jesus calmed the disciples’ fear and hushed the raging sea.
He then recited a list of personal storms individuals can face in life – abuse, neglect, drug and alcohol abuse, financial stress. “When you lose your job, that’s a storm. When you don’t know where to lay your head, that’s a storm.”
But, storms are not just external – “they can create storms on the inside, too,” he added, “storms of depression, anger, and a sense of loss.
“What creates storms?” he asked. “Storms occur when high pressure collides with low pressure. Something high bumping into something low causes a storm. Like high hopes colliding with low standards. There are a lot of successful people who are just one storm away from something bad.”
But, there is good news, he quickly added. “No matter what we face, God can bring peace in the midst of the storm. This same Jesus who looks at the outside storm and says peace can do the same with storms on the inside. No matter what storm you are in, God wants to be a healer, your friend.
“I pray you will experience the peace of God through the people around you today, who love you,” he said in closing. “You are the beloved child of God – nothing can keep you from the love of God.
“So, a question: What are you going to do about that?”
Dozens of people streamed forward in response to an invitation to accept Christ. Following a moving time of breaking loaves of bread at individuals tables to symbolize the reality that we are all to break bread together in the kingdom of God, a warm meal was served.
And, just as quickly as they had gathered, the hundreds of guests quietly slipped away and the street soon became eerily silent once again.