Matthew Barnett: What motivates us to stay and serve COVID-ravaged Los Angeles
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The pandemic has hit the city of Los Angeles in unprecedented ways, the battle being waged on two fronts: the loss of lives through the virus and the loss of livelihoods.
Two fights at the same time is a massive challenge. While the hospital workers continue to do heroic acts of courage fighting the medical battle of COVID-19, the Dream Center is “holding down the fort” dealing with the loss of people’s quality of life due to job losses and the overall economic impact.
According to the Brookings Institution, “More than three out of five low-income households with children reported that they had experienced an income shock due to COVID-19. Income losses related to COVID-19 are associated with a host of material hardships, including food insecurity and difficulty paying bills.”
This city that I love is devastated by this pandemic. Many have asked us, “Why do you stay? Isn’t it a hopeless effort?” It can feel that way.
However, staying in hard times has allowed us to experience the greatest demonstration of God’s love in the history of the LA Dream Center’s rich legacy.
Many of the community’s landmarks have been shut down during the last 18 months. The best way to explain it is like when Nehemiah assessed the damage to the structure of the city every day in the Bible. I can also relate it to Ezekiel, who visited the graveyard and was confronted with the question, “Can these dry bones live again?”
One particularly disheartening trend I’ve observed during the pandemic is how many single mothers are becoming homeless. Our drive-thru food line at the Dream Center was flooded by young mothers who were first to be cut during the business closures.
One day, a lady I saw many times pulled up to receive her lunch and groceries and I asked her, “Where have you been?”
She apologized for not coming back but then explained that she ran out of gas and couldn’t make it to the food line.
She then said something that shook me greatly: “Gas money is my rent money.”
I can say both confidently, and proudly, that we are literally saving lives.
We rallied together a few gas cards and told her we could make sure she always had a gas card to keep the air conditioner on in her car. Day after day, she started to make it to our food line. For days on end she would tell me about her dead-end search for work, but remained hopeful that she could always be fed at the Dream Center.
Out of the blue one day she made a shocking confession. She told me she had a gun in her car and was going to take her own life. She followed up by telling us, “Thank you Dream Center for taking the gun out of my hand.”
My team here in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles gave her hope that she would never be alone. She might have troubles, but she doesn’t have to fear losing all of the basic needs in life because the Dream Center keeps showing up, never forsaking the daily demand of meeting people’s needs.
I can say both confidently, and proudly, that we are literally saving lives. We are doing it by keeping our kitchen open now for 10 hours a day for anyone to get a free meal. We’ve never been able to do that in the past.
We also have a strong relationship with local law enforcement officials who help bring people off the streets and into the Dream Center in hopes of rehabilitating them, rather than locking them up.
We are currently living in the most outrageous ministry era that looks like the set of a motion picture. At the end of a day, we’re exhausted, and it often feels like we’ve served for years.
We are tired and overwhelmed; but we are happy.
If you too are finding yourself running on fumes at times, constantly waiting for the dust to settle, I pray God grants you another day of his mercy and his supernatural strength. I pray you find reminders, as I have, that your labor is not in vain.
This moment could break us, but I’m determined to press on. I’m clinging to the hope that there is a silver lining in this storm, and that God’s promises are never out of reach.
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