Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dream Center - Los Angeles

In the heart of Los Angeles is a ministry facility called "The Dream Center." It was formerly home to the largest hospital west of the Mississippi. It very nearly became another studio for Hollywood productions, but the nuns who ran it decided instead to sell it to some people with a dream.

They envisioned a place where prostitutes, gang members and drug addicts could find another chance. They wanted to establish a ministry to meet the needs of single-parent families, troubled youth, the homeless and people from all walks of life. The dream center is that place.

A small group of people from our local church will be traveling to Los Angeles for a week of volunteer work in the Center. I thought this was a good time to look back on my own visit a couple of years ago. I took four teens to volunteer our services in their ministries to those living in the inner city. It was an eye-opening experience.

The week was designed to give us an idea of the various ministries that operate out of the Dream Center, so each day was different. We unloaded some of the skids of corporate donations of food and repacked them for distribution to some of the poorer neighborhoods. We made sandwiches and took lunch and water to Santa Monica Beach and conducted an outreach to homeless youth. Some of our team worked in the kitchen for a morning, preparing for one of the three meals each day served from the cafeteria which feeds hundreds daily.

We went on a special mission one day to deliver and assemble bunk-beds and other furniture for a family whose children were sleeping on the floor. Family services were going to put the children in foster care if they couldn't get beds. The Dream Center has a large room full of used furniture donated from the community for needs such as this.

We traveled to skid row, where thousands sleep on the street each night. We brought a hot meal and served 80-100 people. We went to visit people who were living under a bridge. It was my most memorable experience. I had the chance to talk with a middle-aged woman named Cecilia. She welcomed me and introduced me to her friends who shared the shelter. She invited me to sit in a broken office chair she had picked up somewhere, while her puppy wagged its tail contentedly. We brought her a blanket and some water for which she was very grateful. I asked how long she had lived here, she smiled and said that this had been her home for five years. It was much better than skid row, her previous home. Later I found out that drug addiction had brought her down to skid row, but now she was clean and trying to stay that way. The Center will offer her a new start when she's ready. Before we left she called her friends over and we joined hands and prayed for God's protection on her. Our friend Matt promised to visit her soon with some more water and canned goods. By the way, while we were there a freight train came through her front yard and dropped some medical supplies, a regular occurrence. I appreciate my home so much more now than before.

On Saturday some of us gathered on buses which we had previously loaded with supplies for the Adopt-A-Block program. The buses carried food and other necessities to neighborhoods which were a part of the regular rotation. The buses were filled with volunteers who piled off and gathered up the neighborhood kids to play at a local park while food was distributed to the parents. Then teams went out door-to-door to see what was needed. Sometimes it may be a specific practical need, often it was just advice, prayer or a listening ear. But you could tell that the regular volunteers had become family to these people. As the buses rolled up, people would come out of their homes and welcome the workers they knew by name. Afterwards many of the area youth returned on the bus to the Dream Center for basketball and to hang out until the youth service - a high-energy inspirational event at nearby Angelus Temple.

My son, Levi, had the opportunity to play to a different type of crowd than he was used to at the weekly coffee house for Hope For Homeless Youth. Another of our team spent that night working with a local chef who was preparing for the next day's outreach and baptism at Venice Beach. He worked from 10 PM until 2 AM and was back at it the next day for another 8 hours.

We also had the chance to travel with Metro Kids into the neighborhoods to do outreach to children. Our team leader was a man who had been reached through a program just like this. It aims to provide positive adult role models to kids who are constantly bombarded by gang violence, crime, poverty and the effects of family disintegration. You have to see the expression on the children's faces to realize just how much of a difference is being made.

The scope of this largely volunteer outreach was staggering. Literally hundreds of volunteers each week make this "church that never sleeps" effective. In the dorms are scores of people who are working their way through rehab programs. Many of the staff and volunteer leaders are graduates of the program. Joining them are interns from all over the world who have come to learn, work and make a difference.

There are too many stories to tell and many memories, sights and smells which words cannot describe, but I wanted to try. When I imagine the type of church that Jesus intended when He established it, this is what it looks like. I'm glad for the experience. To keep track of what's happening at the Dream Center, check out their Facebook page.

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