“Oh Holy night, the stars are brightly shining…” This beautiful song always evokes a memory of a very special time when, as a teen-ager, I spent Christmas Eve on Skid Row. Although I was at first frightened, I acclimated to the environment, and was soon immersed in the Spirit of Christmas in this eye-opening experience.
As part of their monthly ministry to the homeless, my church provided a worship service at a rescue mission in Los Angeles for all who wanted to come. Members of the church, of all ages, gathered at the church and traveled the 25 mile distance to sing, give testimonies, and give a short sermon. This particular year, the date fell on Christmas Eve and so a small group of people, besides me, my parents and my boyfriend spent their evening amongst a crowd of lonely and broken men
Meeting at our church, on that chilly afternoon, we loaded up the rickety old church bus and inched our way through heavy traffic and into the skid row area of Downtown. Darkness arrived the same time we did. Unkempt men sat against the wall off the building and dully watched us unload the sound equipment. Being young and immature, I felt vulnerable around the disheveled men. I was fearful of what a drunken man might do, so clustered with my friends.
After a meal was served, time came for the program to start, I noticed that the building was nearly full and that some men were asleep in their seats. However, most of the attendees just sat staring us as we filled up the stage. We all joined together singing Christmas carols and the pastor told the story of the first Christmas. As I listened and observed the congregation from my seat in the choir loft, my heart started breaking for those men who had no one. I wondered what had happened in their lives that had led to them to be here. As I was only a teenager, I did not know what I could do to help make their life a bit better.
The highlight of the service occurred when my boyfriend, Steve, played a heavenly-sounding solo on his guitar: “Oh Holy Night.” I could see tears in the eyes of some of the scruffy men and others were outright sobbing. I could sense the power of Christmas in that room, as well as in my own heart.
Following the program, several families gathered at one of our member’s home for food and fellowship. The nice warm home, decorated so lovely, and delicious food seemed so anti-climatic to what we had just experienced. I realized that I was blessed to have friends and family that I could be with, unlike the broken men we’d just left behind. I prayed that our time there had put a little light and love into their bleak lives.
To this day, I think back to that poignant night and feel sad because broken and homeless people are even greater now, and include whole families. And yet, I feel a warm glow because we brought the “good news” to the people and were able to share our love in a tangible manner. That, truly, is the spirit of Christmas!
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Wonderful warmth in this. My heart was stabbed with the reality you endured when you left those dear souls 'behind'.
Great message and great reminder to all of us about those still out their and now, for some, entire families.