When a State of Emergency isn’t enough

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)

I watched a recent news story where the mayor of Los Angeles declared homelessness “a state of emergency.” This declaration releases funding and major avenues of effort from all agencies, for crisis intervention and immediate change. As I watched the news report, I was struck by one homeless man’s interview. In summary, the homeless man told the reporter, “I love living on the streets. I can do whatever I want. Look, I am a drug addict and I love my life. I have freedom to do whatever I want. I don’t need help. I am comfortable living right here along-side the freeway.”

As the story was sent back to the news anchor, you can see he looked speechless. He stumbled over his words. I believe he knew in his heart that even the best intended plans to declare homelessness a state of emergency were not going to help people like the man who was just interviewed.

This interview just broke my heart. He looked like a shattered man, both physically and emotionally. He had been deceived into believing that a life on drugs and sleeping next to a pollution filled freeway was a “good life.” What hurt the most was the feeling that I was looking at a man whose life was just wasting away.

I wondered why the reporter stumbled over his words after that interview. Maybe he felt like I did. Maybe he realized all the help in the world still couldn’t change a man who loved his drugs and perceived “freedom”?

I can tell you with full assurance: this is exactly why River of Life Mission is here. My heart broke for the man being interviewed. He is stuck in an evil and destructive pattern, believing that his drugs are his life.

One thing we talk about over and over at the mission is that we have to take Jesus to people on the streets. We have to see a transition in the soul before we can see a transition from the streets.

Several days ago, a friend and I were sharing some of our best moments from 2022. My friend shared a story of a young man he met at one of our 16 River of Life Mission hub spots. The young man had been living on the streets and wanted to make a change. He didn’t want the streets to be his life. But the young man felt like he just couldn’t get out. He had tried programs and to get help – but something was missing.

Eventually, through relationship and connection, this young man came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Then things started to change. He got involved in a Bible study. He started coming around church more. He started to help and serve. And now he is living in a rented room, working, and is even traveling to visit his relatives this month with one goal – to make some wrongs right with his family. Our view at River of Life Mission is that people can transition off the streets, but it is so much harder when the soul is sick. But Jesus can heal! He came to heal souls. And once the soul is healed, the streets lose their luster and the appearance of “a life well lived.”

I truly believe that the man I saw interviewed in Los Angeles needs a change in his soul, a change of heart, that even a state of emergency cannot help. Until that man is changed from the inside—until he comes to understand that he is loved, that he was created for a life of purpose in loving others, and that his life does have great meaning—he will stay on the streets and stay in love with his drugs.

Watching this interview and witnessing the reporter struggling to make sense of it all, increased my passion and dedication to our mission here at River of Life Mission. We desire to see souls healed and people come to know Jesus and understand themselves in light of God’s unconditional love and His Word to us.

We must extend Jesus first, so Jesus can heal and create change. And that is what we love to do! In this new year we are more dedicated than ever to seeing this happen on a broad scale here in Hawaii and beyond. And how will we do it?

1. Being “Better Together.” We have adjusted our approach by going mobile and taking our meals and ministry directly to those who are hurting and homeless. We are working with more people, in more locations, and bringing together more services—all to extend Jesus’ love and better serve others.
2. Being “All In.” We must all be willing to help, in some way. By giving, serving, and loving our friends on the streets.
3. Going “One by One.” People living on the streets are struggling with a complexity of issues. This requires one-on-one care and attention. Jesus is the loving shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to search for the one that is lost.

So onward and upward into 2023! Let’s continue to partner together to see people healed in their souls by coming to know Jesus and allowing his lovingkindness to transition them off the streets into a life of purpose and joy.

Pastor Paul Gates

Executive Director