Hey everyone! Sorry it has been a while since I last posted anything on my blog. I have been doing a lot of traveling lately and have not had enough time to sit down and write. However, I wanted to share with you my first mission trip experience to the L.A. Dream Center.
I woke up at 2a on Monday morning to get to the church parking lot by 3a. We were going to carpool to the airport, to ensure that nobody got left behind. I did not get much sleep the night before, due to last minute packing and excitement about the what the week had in store for me/us. I felt somewhat prepared for the trip because we had been studying this book called “Helping without Hurting: In Short Term Missions” by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett. However, I was still a little nervous, because I had never been on a mission trip.
We arrived in Los Angeles in the early afternoon, tired and hungry. After getting the rental car, we went to a west coast favorite restaurant, In-N-Out Burger. While standing in line, one of the women in our group was talking to an In-N-Out Burger employee about our mission trip. He said to look at the bottom of our cups and containers when we received our food. When I got my drink, I looked at the bottom but did not see anything. Once he told me to turn the cup around, there it was…bible verses. I was shocked but also encouraged that another company (like Forever21) was sharing Jesus in their own way. (Side note: I discovered on this trip, that In-N-Out Burger is the best burger restaurant in all of America).
Find a Need…Then Fill It
After we finished eating, we headed to the L.A. Dream Center to settle in and take a tour of the facility. For those of you who have not heard about the L.A. Deam Center, let me give you a brief overview. Their main objective is to bring people to Christ. To achieve this objective, they find and fill needs in the surrounding communities. Each week, they go into communities and pass out food, clean up their parks, and provide medical services. By going into the same communities each week, they are able to establish relationships with the residents and gain their trust. Trust turns into a willingness to learn about God and pray with the volunteers. And praying and learning about God, turns into a relationship with God. This does not happen overnight, but with the continued support of short-term mission groups and L.A. communities. The fact that the L.A. Dream Center solely survives from the support of volunteers, is truly incredible.
Additionally, the L.A. Dream Center houses once homeless Veterans, families, men, and women from all backgrounds. They offer programs and services (specific to which group they fall into) to help them know Christ and be emancipated from their past. I became extremely interested in going on this mission trip because I have a heart for the vulnerable in our society. I use to intern with Back on My Feet (BoMF) in college, and it gave me a deeper understanding of homelessness. Since then, I have been trying to find a way to help individuals experiencing homelessness. With that said, during the trip, we heard lots of success stories about the programs; and even some of the individuals who graduated the programs are mentoring new classes.
Becoming Comfortable with the Uncomfortable
On our first full day at the Dream Center, we helped with their Food Truck outreach program. The trucks were already equipped with food that was loaded in the morning by other short-term mission groups. After we had a group prayer, we headed out to our different communities. Each community had a community leader who assisted us and ensured every resident present was able to get their share of the food. Once we got to the community, we unpacked everything and bagged it up for the residents. Then the residents came through to receive their food, that was donated by food banks and other organizations.
I was standing at the end of the line passing out food, when a guy approached me and asked for prayer. Earlier that month, our Pastor had challenged us to start praying out loud. I had started to get more comfortable with praying out loud, but this was challenging me a step further to pray out loud with others. I have to admit that this was not the best prayer I had ever said, but the guy (JB) truly appreciated it. Afterwards, when I was reflecting on the delivery of that prayer, I was reminded of a Bible passage. In Romans 8:26 it says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” So even though I thought my prayer for JB could have been better, I was reminded that the Holy Spirit interpreted to God what was in my heart for him. After the prayer, I started telling him about the Dream Center. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman standing near us. Excitedly, she explained that she was waiting so that I could pray with her as well. So I prayed for her and her boyfriend, who was in the hospital. And then I prayed for another woman, who was expecting a child. Honestly, with each prayer, it became a little easier; and I came away as blessed as they did.
Lessons I Took Away
When I volunteered to go on this mission trip, I believed that I would be giving and sharing more with others. Instead, I learned and grew so much from this experience. The first time we served with the Food Truck Outreach program, I left a little frustrated at the operation of the program. The short-term goal (I thought) of feeding residents in the communities were being met, but what about the long-term goal? After speaking with a staff member at the Dream Center, I was able to understand their goal was not to feed people…their goal was to plant seeds so that others can come to know Christ. Later, I had a discussion with one of my team leaders about planting seeds. The Bible talks about reaping and sowing what you plant. She helped me to realize that some things, some people take a while to come to fruition. For many years, I had been praying for one of my friends from high school. It seemed like no matter how much I prayed for him or reached out to him, nothing was changing. Yet, with this new revelation of planting a seed, it gave me hope that if I continue to pray for him, one day he will change.
Another valuable lesson I took away from this trip, involved my testimony. A testimony is basically an individual’s story and how God helped them along the way. I have had an extremely blessed life, I have never been in want. I was a good child growing up, got good grades in school, never really got into trouble, etc. etc. During the trip, we heard many testimonies about how God saved people from addictions, abuse, and gang life. After hearing their testimonies, I felt as if my testimony could not help others in comparison to their stories. One individual addressed my concern without even hearing about it. He said that we do not have to go through great trials and tributions for God to be able to use us. I spoke to a good friend about this, who reminded me that I did have a testimony. As a young female Christian remaining celibate until marriage, this was in of itself a testimony; and that it can be used as an example for others my age. So if you are like me and think that you do not have a “good” testimony, I challenge you to really think about all God has done and protected you from in life.
Lastly, I learned to be open-minded and try to view situations from other’s perspective. On our last night of the trip, we visited Skid Row. A large group of volunteers and Dream Center staff arrived “outside” of Skid Row with socks, food, and water. As we made our way through the area, we prayed and passed out the supplies. Right before we made our way back to our cars, I encountered a woman that currently lived on Skid Row. With a genuine smile on my face, I greeted her like I had done so many times that night. I asked her name, which she replied, “none of your mf business.” To which I replied with my name. I could tell she did not want to have a conversation with me, so I told her to have a good night. To which she replied, “I am. I don’t need you to tell me to have a good f**ck’n night.” The conversation was definitely over at that point. And instead of me getting upset or responding negatively back to her, I responded with love. Charles R. Swindoll once said, “life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” When I got to the car I wanted to cry because my actions did not warrant that response. However, I had to realize her reality of living on the streets. I had to see things from her persepective, understand that she may not have been in her right mind or that she was having a bad day. Regardless, I had to extend grace to her, just like God extends grace to us every day.
Overall, this was an amazing mission trip. I learned so much about others and about myself, that I will never forget. I made a lot of memories and connected with others in my church. I have come to understand that we are all broken and need help sometimes. I would love to go back there one day, but I can also use what I have learned to help those in my community. If you want to learn more about the L.A. Dream Center, you can visit their website. Or if you want to learn more about my experience, you can comment below. Thank you so much for reading this post, and I hope it has inspired you to find and fill needs in your own community.