When reading through the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, it does not take long to realize that he has a tendency to pay special attention to people who are hurting. Over and over we see Jesus go out of his way to care for the physically and spiritually tormented. Whether it be the man who was blind from birth in John 9, or the man tormented by demons in Mark 5, it is clear that responding to those who are suffering is a central aspect of Jesus’ gospel. The implication of this reality is twofold. First, it shows us that an intrinsic aspect of God’s character is not only to notice those in pain, but to bring them liberation. Second, it shows us that as His disciples, we too are called to pay attention to the suffering in this world and work towards the healing of others. These two realities are the foundation of the Refuge at FPCH, and continue to guide its mission in the community.
Every year, the Refuge is hosted at FPCH and staffing includes Urban Missions Director Amie Quigley, Brandon Malone who built the sleeping partitions with the help of our guests (see photo#1), and Ethan Haymes from FPCH, Jason Brown from Ecclesia and Stephen Saengpradap, outreach worker in Hollywood and myself, as well as security guards and support from LA County Department of Mental Health staff. The Refuge seeks to provide a place where people, some of whom are gravely disabled and living on the streets, can come to receive rest, safety, care, and love. The term gravely disabled refers to any of our friends in the community who, because of their physical and mental condition, are likely to die if they do not receive immediate care. FPCH collaborates with a variety of social services in the area (LA County Department of Mental Health, Step Up, E6 outreach teams, Saban Community Clinic and others) in order to compile a list of these individuals, locate them, and bring them into the Refuge. The Refuge itself is not a long-term solution to the wide range of troubles and sufferings that our friends are experiencing. Rather, it is a sort of way-station on each of our friends’ journeys. It is a place where each person can find relief from the myriad of issues that living on the streets brings. For some, all they need is a place to finally have a chance to sleep soundly through the night, take a shower, and get their bearings. For many, however, the Refuge is a place of both physical and psychological healing. A place to finally receive the medical attention and long-term housing that their lives – quite literally – depend on. It is God’s house where life-long friendships are made and the strong faith in Christ of our guests inspires the staff and volunteers. It’s always encouraging to hear them pray with gratitude for our church and their many blessings!
This year, perhaps the best example of how God can use the Refuge in a person’s life has been seen through our friend, Barry. When Barry came to us in the first several days of the Refuge, he was in bad shape. He was in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg and his body had been through so much pain from living on the street that he couldn’t even get himself out of bed on his own (photo #2.) Because of the pain, his early days consisted of simply sleeping and eating. In addition to his physical pain, he also came to the Refuge with an undiagnosed head injury that led to some serious short term memory troubles. Fast forward to the last week of the Refuge and not only is Barry out of his wheelchair, but he takes daily walks with his friends (photo #3) and his cognitive skills have improved drastically. Through the care that he was able to receive over the past ten weeks, Barry’s future suddenly looks much less bleak. He is now safely residing in interim housing (praise the Lord!) With eighteen beds available in the Upper Terrace this year, twenty one guests stayed with us and fourteen are consistently working with housing providers and moving forward. Please keep them in your prayers.
While the Refuge is not new to FPCH, the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to rethink many of its typical aspects. Most noticeably, we shifted from providing dinner and shelter until morning, to offering 24/7 care for our friends. For the past ten weeks we have had people in Upper Terrace all day, every day. Obviously, this presented a whole new slate of challenges that we had to work through. But in my opinion, the most important lesson that we as the staff were able to relearn was the absolute necessity of prayer. We quickly realized that it was only by a total devotion to daily (and sometimes hourly) prayer that any good thing would come from the Refuge. The common theme that ran through each of these prayer times was the petition for God to help us to simply get out of the way, and remain open and willing to serve in whatever way He desired. In all forms of ministry, it can be easy at times to become comfortable in a routine and begin relying on our own skills and abilities. We found ourselves daily echoing the words of John the Baptist when he said, “He must increase, but we must decrease.” But every single day at the refuge forcefully reminded us that on our own, whether housed or on the streets, we are all completely helpless.
Special thanks to the FPCH volunteers from the Lord’s Lighthouse, the Deacons, the Choir, the Youth, Young Adults, Community Life teams and others in the congregation. We are so very grateful for your delicious meals, worship music and sacred fellowship! Additionally, we were blessed by the partnership and participation of Ecclesia, Reality LA, Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, Brentwood Presbyterian Church, Church of Christ and other amazing groups in the area. What a joy to be the family of Christ in ministry together!