It was 1985. I was a "baby" Christian; it was just a little over a year since I had been given the gift of faith. Now, Christmas was approaching and the ugliness of the commercialization of this holy event saddened me deeply.
I had an idea. How about if we went out and told people the truth? "Jesus was born to die for our sins" was certainly not written on any mall store windows!! So, that was our message. I scurried down to City Hall to get a permit for the event. As I waited for the clerk, I walked over to the big plate glass window and looked into the cloudless blue sky, and prayed that God would bless this desire to make His Name known to the people of Long Beach.
|Plaque from the cross used in the Witness Walk, 1985.|
Mike took the kids and the cross over to the church that Saturday morning. I finished up some things and followed shortly on foot, as it was just three short blocks. I was about half way there when it happened. Something invisible was in front of me. I knew it was there, I could almost feel it, but I could not see it. It was evil, whatever it was. It was telling me how stupid I was for doing this. How I should turn around, run, and not go. How people would laugh. Later I would know why Christ had said, "Get thee behind me, Satan." For now, I prayed for strength, and I kept walking.
I got to the church, we organized and took off. By noon, we reached the mall downtown. We had about seven minutes inside before getting tossed out by security. That's okay; today's story is not about getting in Santa Claus's face or piling guilt on those having a credit card debt-fest. It's about bringing hope to the hopeless, and rescuing those being led away to death ~~ the exact reasons why Messiah came to earth.
We were on Atlantic Ave., just past Poly High School, a "bad" part of town that wise White folks did not find themselves in without good tires and a full tank of gas, let alone go walking there in the late winter afternoon. But dope dealers and hookers and homeless needed to hear the Good News, too, right?
I was at the end of our group, as always, being one who enjoyed talking to those we encountered. With everyone ahead, I crossed the street and saw a young mom with two small children. She was talking on the pay phone to someone. I approached the children and greeted them. She turned around, and I saw she was crying and very upset. She slammed the phone against the wall onto the receiver.
"Can I pray for you?" was all I could get out of my mouth. She collapsed into my arms, sobbing sorrowfully. She had just told her husband ~~ in Indiana, hundreds of miles away ~~ that she was going to kill the children and commit suicide.
She had left her husband and was staying with 'friends' who had promptly pimped her out. She hated her life and saw no other escape. I prayed with her, and stayed and talked with her for a long time. The others missed me (after awhile!) and came looking for me. Not having a car, we could not take her with us, but I promised that I would come back for her and take her to our house as soon as we got back.
By the time we reached home, it was 5pm and dark. Mike stayed with our four young children while I took the car to keep my promise. I remember walking up the long driveway to the address she had given me, thinking that I could be facing a very irate pimp, or worse. I kept walking.
I did not have to wait after knocking. She was at the door, ready to go. She grabbed the two children and a small suitcase and we walked together down the porch, to the obscenities and slurs of angry men.
She stayed with us that night, and Sunday and Monday. She called her husband once she was safe at our house and worked things out. He sent her some money, so on Tuesday afternoon which happened to be Christmas Eve, we took her to L.A. International Airport and sent her and the little ones home. Here I was once more, gazing into a beautiful blue sky through a large plate window; this time I whispered in my heart, "Thank You."
Always, at this time of year, I think of her and wonder how she and her family are doing. Sometimes, when my melancholy disposition gets a case of the "George Bailey's" I remember that there are three people in the world who most likely wouldn't be here if I had not been on that street corner that day at that time. And never, ever, do I forget the love of God that is always watching out for us, sending us help just when we need it.