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Watts (Part 1)

Well, it has been a very long time since my last blog and a lot has happened. While some things have changed tremendously, other things have remained the same. For instance, I am still working for the employer that brought me to Orange County over three years ago*, I am still attending Rock Harbor church in Costa Mesa, I still lead a small bible study group, and I still have two wonderfully precious children.

Are you familiar with burning bushes? Has one ever talked to you? Well, my name is not Moses and no bushes have ever talked to me, but several months ago God told me to do something that has significantly impacted the direction of my life. I have been leading a bible study for a while now, and I have spent a lot of time in church, in private school, and in the Bible. However, when you get down to my core, I am a self-absorbed person who has a lot of fears and insecurities. My inner problems prevent me from doing anything truly significant in this world. Fortunately, God doesn’t call on perfect people to do His work.

This past spring (2007), I was invited as a volunteer leader in my church to attend a meeting in which our church’s main leaders announced God’s vision for us for the summer. They told us about something that they called the “GO” campaign. The campaign consisted of raising money for 12 causes and sending all of us out to one of four “outposts” to perform some form of ministry. One of the 12 causes, for example, was to fund the freeing of female slaves in India. The first “outpost” that they mentioned was New Orleans. They said we would go there and help them build new homes and other buildings. At that moment I thought, “Great, the kids and I could do that. It will be fun.” The next outpost they mentioned was Watts. Frankly, I still know very little about Watts but I am familiar with the gang fights, drive-by shootings, and so on. My immediate reflex action to the announcement was to block out what the person on the stage was saying. Picture a young boy with his hands over his ears, eyes closed, and shouting “Ya ya ya ya ya ya ya…” Well, that was me, but only in my head. Going to Watts sounded about as enticing as walking around blind-folded… on the freeway! Only an idiot with a death wish would go there! …so I thought. At that moment, right there in my seat, as I was blocking the speaker out, God spoke to me, as plain as could be. He said, “You need to listen to this.” I thought, “What? Oh that must have been some crazy voice in my head. It was nothing. … ya ya ya ya ya ya ya…” But the voice did no go away. God repeated himself. He said, “You need to listen to this, because you are going!” For me, there was no mistaking that this was the voice of God. However, I thought back to him, “Surely, you must be mistaken. I can’t go to Watts. I’m too afraid. I could be shot.” The voice said, “Just listen. You are going.” Well, I obeyed and I listened but I still did not want to go.

A few weeks went by before I told anyone about my calling to Watts and about my hesitancy to go. I finally told them because I felt that if I didn’t, I might not go. Before I told them, no one else knew about it except God, and I was seriously considering trying to hide from Him. Not that I actually could, but I certainly wanted to.

After telling others about my dilemma for the first time, it was much easier to consider it as a real possibility. I even decided that if was gonna go, I might as well be a leader on one of the teams too. From then on, I simply walked in obedience to God. I submitted the required forms, attended all of the required meetings, and went through the interview process. I was in. We had a couple of pre-trip team get-togethers, I read some books, and I watched “Boyz in the Hood.” I did everything I could think of to prepare.

When the day of the trip finally came, I arrived in the church parking lot in Costa Mesa with knots in my stomach. I was supposed to be a leader but I did not know if I was gonna be able to keep my lunch down. One of my team members asked me how I was doing and I simply said that I was nervous. So, they asked how nervous I was on a scale from 1 to 10. I said that I was about an 8 or 9. (Not very reassuring coming from a leader.) We packed up all of the cars and drove to Watts.

By the time we actually arrived, my “8 or 9” had dropped to a “7 or 8”. Our destination was a quarter-mile from the freeway exit. It was a three-story concrete church building surrounded by an intimidating brick wall that was capped with barbed wire. We drove in through the electric gate and headed upstairs to unload our stuff into the classrooms we’d be staying in. From the upper floors of the church I could see a lot of the neighborhood. The wall around the church was not the only thing that had barbed wire on it. I could also see graffiti, broken windows, trash, junk cars, luxury cars, and barred windows and doors. We kind of hung out for a bit then we had dinner.

For dinner we had pizza. When everyone had finished eating, some girls noticed that there was a considerable amount of leftover pizza. One of them then suggested that a couple of us go out into the neighborhood to give it away. I thought, “Great, *you* can do that.” But then I realized that it was just two girls that were going to do it! In my head I was thinking, “You are crazy! Isn’t someone else going with them? Isn’t someone going to stop them?” but as I looked around no one else seemed to care. So, that was it. That was my moment of truth. I could be a mouse and stay inside the gate, or I could be a man and go out with them. My heart tried to beat itself out of my chest as the gate opened to let us out into the neighborhood. This was it. With sweat oozing out of every pore of my shaky body, I stepped out into the unknown.

…to be continued…

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