Leannahollis.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. This blog post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on the link to make a purchase, I may make a small amount of money (usually a few cents) from your purchase. It will not increase the price you pay in any way. This post contains recommendations for products I have used in ministry with those in need.

The glamour of a vintage evening gown, a coveted award, and a luxury hotel faded in the rear-view mirror as the blinding rain slowed my progress toward home. The snail’s pace through the storm left far too little time to swap suitcases, snuggle dogs, and grab a nap before boarding a plane for the land of Hollywood and movie stars.

I was en-route to Los Angeles, a city where Maseratis line the streets of Rodeo Drive and men and women in designer clothing spend thousands to purchase baubles they’ll soon discard.

We didn’t expect much glamour this trip, however. Our team of twelve men and women were headed to The Dream Center, a Christian ministry serving those with financial challenges, veterans in need, and those experiencing homelessness. Housed in an old hospital, their motto is #wegettoserve.

The first day, we toured the Dream Center facility, listened to orientation instructions and watched a short film. Later that evening, we headed toward downtown in search of a little sightseeing and a meal.

The Cranky Waiter

We chose a restaurant with a reasonable price for recognizable fare. The high-backed booths reminded me of a movie set. The decor was pure California. A twenty-something waiter took our drink orders. One of the ladies at my table ordered unsweet tea. He misunderstood and immediately launched a lecture on sweet tea as a major cause of rampant diabetes in the US.

I was shocked. Appalled. Angry on behalf of my friend. My old fleshly nature surged up and, for a moment, I wanted to give an equally stern lecture in reply. A soft answer turns away wrath came to mind, but no acceptably soft answer, so I kept quiet. I’m not sure who spoke up, but someone clarified the order with a gentle tone and defused the conflict.

The incident rattled me, but we laughed it off and enjoyed our dinner. At some point, Jessica, one of the ladies in our group, pointed to me and told our waiter, “She’s an award-winning novelist.” Only forty-eight hours had passed since I’d heard my name called at the awards ceremony. I wasn’t comfortable with the accolades. Instead, I was embarrassed and afraid I would seem prideful, but God had a plan.

The cranky waiter was also an aspiring novelist. A long conversation about the joys and heartbreak of writing ensued. He’d never served an award-winning novelist before, he told me. I laughed to myself and wondered if I will ever be a published award-winning novelist. Before I left, he hugged me repeatedly and asked how to find my writing. I wrote my website on a scrap of paper. He stuck it in his pocket and followed me out the door. After one more round of hugs, he returned to his work.

On the way back to our dorm, we anticipated his surprise when he viewed my Christian website and prayed God would use the divine encounter to change his heart. It was the easiest bit of ministry we did that week.

The Food Trucks

The next day, we loaded trucks with produce and canned goods, then handed out bags of food to people in need. They lined up to receive their bags, walked through our distribution line, and waited at the end so we could pray with them.

Their needs were enormous. I wanted to do more than pray but taking their needs to God is doing something. I felt small and inadequate. Only an Almighty God can solve the problems they face.

Where Affluence and Poverty Collide

Wednesday afternoon, we went to Skid Row where homelessness abounds and hunger, need, and lack of basic hygiene are part of every-day existence. The fifty-four city blocks of tragedy and poverty were lined by tents on the sidewalks, pallets of cardboard, and discarded humans whose hope is gone.

On Skid Row, mere miles from the mansions of the rich and famous, pregnant women slept in the open and shuffled down the streets in worn-out, discarded clothing hoping for a handout. Men, plagued by addiction, loss, and both mental and physical illness, wandered as if in a fog. No job. No money. No hope.

One of the most affluent neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area is Hidden Hills, where the median income is $250,000+/year. In stark contrast, the median income in downtown LA (in which Skid Row is located) is only $19,887/year.

A one-bedroom apartment in LA costs, on average, $2,437/month. ($29,244 annual cost) Two-bedroom apartments, on average, rent for $3,309/month. Imagine paying $39,708 per year in rent alone, before childcare, groceries, clothing, school supplies, health insurance, or transportation to and from work. It’s no wonder the “under-employed,” especially minimum-wage-earners, end up on the streets.

This is America? Yes. it is.

Skid Row

Skid Row is hard to comprehend and impossible to forget. The smell of marijuana, urine, unwashed flesh and human excrement mingled into a stifling stench. It filled my nostrils for days. My shoes carried a smell I dared not pack in my suitcase. I left them in LA.

The images of the people weren’t so easy to leave behind:

  • the pregnant woman near delivery asleep on bare concrete, her gravid abdomen exposed
  • the beautiful but scantily-clad young women who ducked just out of sight with their “customers” for a quick “transaction”
  • the older man in a lawn chair, so stoned and still I thought he was dead until I approached him and saw his hand twitch
  • the demon-possessed woman who repeatedly showed me her belly and insisted witchcraft was changing the color of her skin

Clothed with Compassion

Before we went into Skid Row the first time, a young man named Taylor gave us wise advice. “Clothe yourselves with compassion,” he said. I did but had to surrender my expectations, my pride, and my judgmental, critical spirit to do it.

In the first tent we visited on Skid Row, a mother, stoned out of her mind, slept on a makeshift cot. Her two-year-old daughter sat on the cot beside her. A man in a chair at the entrance to the tent guarded her, I suppose, as he talked with a friend from the streets.

A few steps away, beautiful young women in skimpy clothing and heavy makeup entertained their customers in four porta-potties at the park entrance. They’d posted schedules on the doors and had a steady business.

Prostitution in the most unsanitary place imaginable.

What kind of man treats women with such disrespect? What kind of woman allows it? My indignant questions soon found an answer — hopeless men and women who don’t know the love of Jesus.

A young mother, obviously pregnant, pushed a double-stroller in which two young children sat as she made her way down Skid Row in the dark. A man, also shabbily dressed, staggered along beside her. We gave them socks, t-shirts, and bags of cookies, but they needed so much more.

How Hope Begins

It was long past dark and most of the socks were gone when Travis,* a gray-haired man with a grizzled beard and rotted teeth, rolled his cart my way. He eyed my bag. “I’m cold.”

“All I have are short-sleeved t-shirts, but it’s warm at the Dream Center.”

“Yeah?”

“There’s food there, too. You ever think about coming off the street?”

“They wouldn’t take me. I have a dishonorable discharge. 240 kills on patrol.”

What? Finally, recognition dawned. Vietnam vet. First in line on patrol. He hadn’t gunned down everyone he’d seen, but he’d killed a lot of people. Fear’ll do that to you. Fear combined with drugs will do even worse, and they did.

He returned home with a dishonorable discharge at a time when all Vietnam veterans, even the heroes, were scorned and rejected. He couldn’t find a job and drifted from one place to another. The drugs he’d first used in Southeast Asia became his constant companion. He did whatever it took to get them.

He’s off drugs now but he’s been on the street for too many years.

“I think they’d take you, Travis. If you want to come off the street, you can have a fresh start. Jesus can change everything.” I introduced him to a Dream Center worker. We made a plan. I rested a hand on his shoulder and prayed the biggest prayer I could for Travis.

I watched as he shuffled off with a t-shirt and a bag of chips in hand, then turned to the DC worker. “You think he’ll show up?”

He shook his head. “Probably not this time, but maybe eventually. When it gets cold. At least he’s thinking about it. And that’s a start.”

It didn’t seem like much of a start to me.

Prayer and love are actions that make a difference.

I wanted progress I could see, something to write about in a touching story and be a cause for rejoicing, but progress was in short supply. Instead, I watched old men gamble away the little bit of money they had as they drank beer and played chess in the park.

We worked hard every day but the physical labor didn’t drain me. Hopeless faces and tragic stories took a toll merely stacking boxes of cauliflower never could. The attempts to drag up compassion from my own sin-riddled heart wore me out. I wanted to rescue someone. Move children to safety. Snatch blunts from shaky hands and stomp them into the ground. Sweep up discarded syringes and burn them.

I wanted to do something, to take action. Arrogance told me I could make a difference. God’s still, small voice in my heart pointed out a fact I’d temporarily forgotten—prayer and love are actions that make a difference.

Changed by Prayer: Jack

We met Jack* early in the week. He grew up in a Hell’s Angel family where drug and alcohol use were as common as eating. His uncle injected him with his first taste of heroin when Jack was only 14 years old.

Eventually, the craving for heroin ruled his life. There was nothing he wouldn’t steal, no one he wouldn’t rip off. He was in and out of prison for years. When he was “outside” he moved closer and closer to his supplier. Even his family refused to see him, so he found a place on Skid Row. Homeless. Destitute. Hopeless. Driven by drugs. Consumed by his addiction.

Jack was one of the fortunate ones. A Mexican woman, he told me, came repeatedly to Skid Row to pray over those who were stoned out of their minds, lost in their drug-addled dreams. She woke them up to tell them about Jesus. If there’d been less heroin in his system he might have ended her crusade. Instead, he crawled back into the dark and slept away the drug.

One night, though, she awakened him with her prayers. This time, he let her pray and hoped he’d return to sleep once she was gone. Her words, however, left him restless and edgy. Sleep fled. He struggled to stand and shuffled off, walking with no destination in mind.

Before the night was done, Jack found himself in the Dream Center, where steal-able, salable items filled the rooms. He thought he’d hit the jackpot. Within a few minutes, someone offered him food. He ate more than he’d had in weeks. They offered him a bed and he slept, fully expecting to leave in the night with the computers and electronics he’d seen.

A man with a Bible got to him first, though, and a journey of recovery, hope, and restoration began. He surrendered his life to the power of Jesus Christ and has been clean five years, off the street and gainfully employed. He’s giving back to the community and inviting other men and women to join him on the journey of a lifetime with Jesus.

Changed by Prayer: Steven

Steven* grew up in a “nice” family. He went to church, had friends, played sports. He made good grades and earned a full scholarship to college. In high school, though, he experimented with alcohol and marijuana and, later, cocaine. He, too, developed an addiction that took over his life. After he dropped out of college, he eventually made his way to Los Angeles. He, too, found a place on Skid Row.

Volunteers faithfully invaded the fifty-four city blocks of tents and cardboard pallets every week. They shared food, clean socks, fresh t-shirts, and the love of Jesus. One eventful day, Steven reached out for the hope they offered and entered the discipleship program at The Dream Center. He spent the first year in Bible Study and hard work. He spoke with no one outside the program. Drugs and alcohol became his past. He surrendered to the saving power of Jesus. Chains were broken. He was free.

Steven’s been clean 18 years. He’s married, has a son, and a steady job. He dreams of being in law enforcement and is making strides toward achieving his goal.

For Jack and Steven, prayer and love made a difference. Change didn’t come overnight, but it did come and it stayed.

Finding victories

I wanted to see change come from our own prayers, our own love and God graciously supplied it, though not in the abundance I desired.

One woman suffered from a physical affliction for more than eleven years. We prayed and God instantly healed her. She set aside her “sweat-rag” and never picked it up again.

Another woman was trapped in a prison of hoarding and isolation. We added to the work of teams before us in her once-beautiful yard. After a few hours of sweat-soaked labor, a garden emerged from the chaos, hope filled her heart, and a smile wreathed her care-worn face.

We loved, prayed, served, gave. We didn’t end homelessness in LA or solve the problem of hunger in America, but we made a difference in the lives of a few people.

With one team after another, serving one week after another, loving and praying, the Dream Center is making a difference. Numerous ministries are there. Together, they’re bringing significant change. Homelessness decreased by 4% in LA last year. It’s not a big number, but, for the people who make up that 4%, it’s huge. There’s still much to be done. Even if we never go to LA to serve in person, we can all be a part of positive change, both there and at home.

Find a need and meet it.

Those words are emblazoned on the wall at the Dream Center. It’s what they do. Recognize a need and meet it with the love of Jesus. It’s a good motto for us, as well.

Find a need and meet it. Make a difference. One person, one act of love at a time. Change is possible, but only if we all do our part.

“and the King will answer and say…

Want to help?

Keep reading for how to help the Dream Center and how to help here at home.

Five steps you can take to help the Dream Center today:

  1. PRAY: Pray for Matthew Barnett, founder of the Dream Center, and all those who serve there—vision, wisdom, compassion, love, faithfulness. Pray for enough volunteers to keep the programs going and for them to allow the love and compassion of Christ to flow through them.
  2. CHANGE: We, the church, can no longer justify life as usual, focused on our own desires and ignoring the needs of those around us. We must allow God to change us and begin to live as He lived—generously, nothing held back, full of sacrificial love.
  3. GIVE:  Give to the Dream Center, to local homeless shelters, and programs designed to help those in need. Stop buying needlessly. Give instead.
  4. VOLUNTEER: Ask God to help you see those in need through the eyes of Christ and let His love drive your response. Find one person in need, get to know them, and invest in their lives with your time, love, and resources. Volunteer at a food bank, a homeless shelter, or with a school backpack program.
  5. SEND: Several in our group ordered supplies ahead of time and carried them with us to give out as we worked in the community. One woman, however, ordered socks and had them delivered directly to the Dream Center. You, too, can send supplies directly to Volunteer Services for those who serve in person to hand out as they walk the streets of Skid Row. Your gifts can make a tangible difference to those in need.

You can make a purchase and ship it directly to the Dream Center in Los Angeles for distribution to those in the greatest need.

Here’s the address:

Short-Term Missions/Dream Center

2301 Bellevue Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90026

Items that are most helpful and appreciated: (there are links to some of the items I usually use for easy order. These are affiliate links. I may make a few cents from your purchase, but it will not change your price at all.)

White tube socks  

T-shirts: 6-pack

  12-pack

Toothbrushes

Toothpaste

Sunscreen

Chewy Granola bars (58 count)

Crunchy Granola bars 

Vienna sausage (or any food with a pull tab opening)

Fruit cups

Raisins/dried fruit

Comb

Feminine hygiene products

Pre-moistened body wipes to clean off even without running water

How to help here at home:

There are needs at in our area, too. Serve in your Jerusalem as well as your ends-of-the-earth location. Here are a few suggestions to help at home:

  1. PRAY. GIVE. VOLUNTEER. SERVE.
  2. LOOK FOR NEEDS IN YOUR AREA AND MEET THEM: We have people without homes here in the Tupelo area, and you probably have them near your home, too. Area ministries and organizations work hard to make a difference, but they need your help. There are more than enough people to meet the needs if we all do our part, so don’t try to participate in every ministry. Find one or two areas in which to serve and help as you can.
  3. BACK UP THOSE WHO SERVE: There are homeless people and hungry people all around us. Offer to serve as a “backup” volunteer so those who serve on a regular basis can have a break. Even the most compassionate among us need to step away once in a while.
  4. PACKING PARTIES: If you’re looking for a quick way to get involved, we’ll host a “packing party” to pack personal hygiene packs for those in crisis and/or experiencing homelessness (GOAL: 100+ bags) as well as bags of supplemental weekend food for distribution at a local school (GOAL: 50 bags) You can help by coming to help pack the bags and by providing supplies for the bags. Here are the items we need: (You can bring them to the Global Outreach Home Office or contact our office and we will arrange for pickup)

74 Kings Highway, Pontotoc MS 38863 or call: 662-842-4615

Suggested items for personal hygiene packs (in addition to those listed above) include:

  1. hotel-sized soap
  2. hotel-sized shampoo
  3. toothbrushes
  4. small tube of toothpaste:
  5. small packs of band-aids
  6. combs or small brushes
  7. “hot hands” packets of hand warmers during cold weather
  8. knit gloves that stretch to fit all sizes during cold weather
  9. knit caps
  10. deodorant
  11. potted meat if you can find some with pull tab openings
  12. crackers
  13. any snack they can just open and have on hand (protein bars, etc)
  14. socks
  15. new underwear (men’s and women’s)
  16. feminine hygiene supplies
  17. sunscreen packets

Street folks can’t handle full-sized items because they often carry all their belongings in a backpack. Our goal is to fill a quart-sized bag for each person.

Suggested items for school weekend food packs:

NO NUTS OR ITEMS PROCESSED WITH NUTS DUE TO ALLERGIES. Individual serving sizes are preferred and cans with pull-tabs are a plus. (Most don’t have can openers.)

  1. Pop tarts
  2. Instant oatmeal
  3. Special K breakfast bars
  4. Canned entrees (ravioli, lasagna, beef stew, etc)
  5. Macaroni and cheese (individual serving size)
  6. Vienna sausages
  7. Beanee Weenees
  8. Pork and beans
  9. Tuna in foil packs
  10. Applesauce
  11. Fruit cups
  12. Dried fruit (raisins, craisins)
  13. Pudding packs
  14. Mini-muffins in packs
  15. Breakfast pastries (individually wrapped)

MINISTRIES AND ORGANIZATIONS SERVING IN OUR AREA:

(If you know of others I haven’t listed, message me and I’ll add them to the list)

EMERGENCY SHELTER:

FAITH HAVEN, INC: Emergency care for children removed from abuse, neglect, or abandonment. 662-844-7091

SAFE, INC.: Shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children. 662-841-9138 or 1-800-527-7233

SALVATION ARMY (Emergency food, shelter, rent, utilities assistance. 662-842-9222

MEALS:

MEALS ON WHEELS: noon meal 5 days a week to those >60+age who meet requirements. 662-844-1441 ext 1056

SAINT’S BREW: Serving breakfast to homeless and low-income people Monday – Friday. 662-842-4386

SALVATION ARMY: Provides noon and evening meals seven days a week. 662-842-9222

REHOUSING:

MUTEH (Mississippians United to End Homelessness): street outreach, rapid rehousing and supportive services. 601-960-0557

FOOD PANTRY:

F.A.I.T.H. FOOD PANTRY: Nettleton food pantry – particularly families with children or in crisis and the elderly. 662-963-2608

HELPING HANDS: Food pantry every Saturday. 662-690-8100

ST. LUKE UMC FOOD PANTRY: For Lee County residents, particularly elderly and families with children. 662-842-6522

WEEKEND BACKPACK PROGRAMS:

FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH: Provides supplemental weekend food for food-insecure students in TPSD. 662-841-0672

*TRANSFORMING TUPELO: Provides supplemental weekend food for food-insecure students at Tupelo Alternative School (A Global Outreach International Prayer and Outreach ministry)

HYGIENE:

SHOWERS OF LOVE: Provides free laundry and shower facilities every Monday and Saturday 7 am to 1 pm

*TRANSFORMING TUPELO: Supplies personal hygiene kits to those in need/crisis (A Global Outreach Prayer and Outreach Ministry)

LIFE SKILLS TRAINING:

FAMILY RESOURCE CENTER OF NORTH MISSISSIPPI: Life skills classes, educational support, and support for family crisis. 662-844-0013

MEDICAL:

C.A.T.C.H. KIDS CLINIC: Free healthcare for children birth to 18 yrs of age. 662-377-2194

GOOD SAMARITAN FREE CLINIC: Free medical, dental, and pharmaceutical care. For working uninsured and temporarily unemployed Lee County residents. 662-844-3733

TREE OF LIFE: Free basic medical and dental care for uninsured or underinsured. First Weds and second Saturday of every month.

PSYCHOLOGICAL/PSYCHIATRIC:

LIFECORE MOBILE CRISIS UNIT: Mobile crisis services and behavioral health assessments/stablization

Transforming Tupelo (a ministry of Global Outreach International) needs assistance preparing at least 100 personal hygiene packs by the end of the year for distribution at an upcoming meeting (January 2019) for those experiencing homelessness. All of the above mentioned items are needed. You can drop them off at the Global Outreach office (Kings Highway) or at Hope Church Tupelo (McCullough Drive)

#wegettoserve #90013 #findaneedandmeetit #hopemissionary #globaloutreach

*names have been changed to protect the vulnerable