From Gang Warfare to Ministry Outreach at the Liquor Store

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Gang Warfare At Liquor Stores

A veil of clouds covered the San Gabriel Valley this morning. They were thin enough to keep the climate pleasantly warm, but opaque to the point that the sun didn’t produce distinct shadows. A wise plein air painter eventually learns to read the weather before going out to paint. That’s important so that he or she will be appropriately dressed and prepared to face such conditions as heat, cold, wind, moisture; even the possibility of changing weather patterns during their outing. I’m willing to accept imperfect or adverse weather conditions for the sake of favorable street ministry results.

I believe God wanted me to paint in front of a liquor store. This particular liquor store was among three listed in my local newspaper as a hotbed of gang warfare. I spent extra time that morning seeking God and praying in the Holy Spirit. When I left my house, I felt that the opportunity for ministry would likely be very meaningful. I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I pitched my easel approximately 10 meters from the door of a small liquor store and next to a check cashing service. The scene in front of me was an auto parts store planted in a forest of telephone poles.

Preaching to the Choir

One of the first ladies I shared Christ with listened very attentively as I told her about God’s plan of salvation. Just as I was about to ask her if she wanted to invite Jesus into her heart, she smiled real big and said, “I’m an evangelist” (I should have known…she was soaking up every word like a sponge). She had also come out to seek the lost. We fellowshipped for a moment, then I gave her a handful of ‘Talent Search’ tracts and she went on her way.

There were other people I met that day who said they were Christians. However, as I talked with them about Jesus, I didn’t enjoy the same type of close fellowship as I did the evangelist. It seemed that most were embarrassed to mention His name in public. While it is not my place to judge their relationship with the Lord, it causes me to wonder when I listen to their beliefs about God and watch their behavior. Nevertheless, I do my best to show them the love of God and impart as much of His word to them as they will allow.

Eventually, a sleek, gold-colored sports car purred up in front of the liquor store. Reflections of the store neon undulated across the polished top and rear quarter-panel as it slowed to a stop. The stylish car turned all heads in this neighborhood. The driver’s door swung open. An attractive young black woman with skin two shades darker than her tinted windows got out.  She was more a traffic-stopper than her ride. She went into the store. A few minutes later, I noticed that she was on the sidewalk talking to one of the men I had ministered to. I couldn’t tell if they knew each other, or if he was just hitting on her. Eventually, she got back into her car, but did not drive away. I could see the silhouette of her hands holding the steering wheel. She got out of her car again. She walked up next to me and silently watched me paint.

Remember, You’re a Christian

For several minutes, no words were exchanged as she looked on. I reminded myself that I was a Christian with a beautiful wife and loving children at home. Finally she spoke, “Did you go to school to learn how to paint?” she asked. It was a common question. I told her that it was something I had done as a very young child and continued. “I did have a Jr. high school art teacher named Mrs. Wilson who inspired me to paint outdoors.” I asked her if she painted. She said that she did not. “Then what?” I asked. “I like to solve word puzzles,” she said.

As we talked, I noticed even more how very attractive she was, but not in a glamorous way. She was poised, articulate and had a penetrating gaze. Her character was much deeper than her appearance; she was strong; street-tough. She was curious—like she was missing something.

I handed her a ‘Talent Search’ tract. She carefully read it then said that she was saved, but acknowledged that she did not have her priorities in order.

I reminded her how important it was to put God first. She agreed. I also told her that she needed to be in a place where she could be taught God’s Word, not just preached to. I told her about my pastor and how good of a Bible teacher he was. I then invited her to church.

I continued to paint as I talked to her about pleasing the Lord. Then I noticed a shadowy figure out of the corner of my eye. I looked over and saw a raggedy man in grease-stained clothes and matted hair standing on the slab of concrete leading up to the liquor store. I told the young lady to look at him. She glanced over her shoulder and turned back to me. “Take a good look,” I said. She looked. “I meet too many people on the streets in a similar condition who say they are Christians,” I continued. “While I dare not doubt anyone’s salvation, it seems to me that disobeying God might have it’s own unintended consequences.”

She turned back to me, thought for a moment, then said that it was time for her to go. We finally introduced ourselves, then she went her way while I put the finishing touches on my painting.

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