This past Saturday over 100 women from The Bridge Bible Church here in Bakersfield gathered and then scattered over the city in small teams to carry out the theme of our event, “Love Where You Are.” It was an outreach to downtown Bakersfield to show God’s love to the people of our city by doing good to and for the people of Bakersfield.
As we went, we looked for ways God was already at work in our city and asked ourselves how we could be a part of it. We saw God at work, heard stories of God at work in individuals’ lives, and did small acts of love to become part of what God is doing in our city.
One team of women went to the rescue mission (yes, God was already at work there) and cleaned up a patio and did crafts with the women residents. One of my friends on that team, Eurcell, literally gave the shirt off her back to a resident.
The lady working with her pulling weeds and sprucing up the patio, kept admiring Eurcell’s bright pink T-shirt with the scrolly artwork. Finally Eurcell asked her if she’d like to have the shirt, she did and they traded T-shirts! Eurcell’s generosity produced a gift of love to that woman living at the rescue mission.
Another team went to the city bus station, talked with folks, handed out coffee, snacks and free bus passes. Some of them even rode the bus and talked with passengers, prayed with some and listened to their stories. Many expressed gratitude for the kindnesses shown them.
One team of ladies washed windows and cleaned the bathrooms of local downtown businesses, pushing their cleaning cart from store to store. Then they handed out flowers to passers-by, surprising them and bringing smiles to their faces.
One of the larger teams went to the Teen Challenge womens’ residence, joined their worship time, had lunch with them and gave them all a new set of bed sheets. They spent time listening to and talking with the women in the Teen Challenge program, women ranging from teens to middle age, all passionate about living new lives free of drugs and alcohol. And all because God was already at work through the people of Teen Challenge.
Other teams of women went to the Pregnancy Center, Ronald McDonald House, delivered lunch to the local police and fire stations, and one team held a cookout and worship song-fest for the residents of a low-income apartment building downtown.
So many different ways to serve the people of our town, and by so doing say, “We love you, because God loves you.”
I was part of the Prayer Team. We made up “blessing bags” the night before in which were snacks, a Christian tract and a tiny Bible that was made up of one verse from every book of the Bible. A couple of the women on our team stayed back at our venue, dubbed “command central,” and prayed for all the teams who had gone out to serve.
Some of us prayer-walked the streets praying for our city businesses, government offices, downtown churches and their outreaches, and people we met on the sidewalks.
We approached people on the street, offering them a blessing bag and asked if we could pray for them. There were sad encounters, like the one with the young man sitting on a curb with a backpack. He had the look of someone who had been living on the street, an all too common sight here in Bakersfield.
He willingly took the blessing bag offered him by my friend, mumbling his thanks. When asked if we could pray for him he muttered in the affirmative, nodding slightly.
My friend placed her hand on his shoulder and prayed for this young man, asking for God’s healing of past hurts and spoke of the grace and love of God for him. He began to quietly weep, hiding his face with his hands and the blessing bag he was holding.
He told us his name is Tony. We will keep on praying for Tony. God is at work here.
A block down from Tony we met Mary who was weaving a flower from a long, strappy palm frond. She showed us a finished flower, made by her ex, Tony. Yes, the same Tony sitting a block away.
Mary said she is tired of not being happy, of living on the street, of freezing at night under her blanket. She’s ready to move in a different direction to find happiness, although it was obvious she didn’t know which direction that might be.
My friend encouraged her to attend the church just around the corner. Mary looked skeptical, but we pray she will go. We know that is the right direction for her. They will receive her at that church. That’s why they are downtown, to seek out the lost and bring them to Jesus. God is at work downtown.
Our little prayer-walking team had a happy encounter too. More than one, in fact.
We gave a blessing bag to a man sitting outside a pizza place waiting for his order of pizzas for his son’s sports team. He thanked us for the bag of goodies and began to tell us how one of his sons, who had been attending a college up north, had been hit by a big F-150 pick-up truck and almost killed.
Miraculously God spared him, he recuperated, and finished his education. He later married and now has a new baby and has become ordained in the Christian ministry. His father, smiling widely, said he loves telling that story.
God was already at work in that family.
My favorite story came out of my friend’s boldness to go over to four skateboarding teenage boys. I do not easily initiate conversations with strangers so these street encounters are always a huge stretch for me. But I followed along as we walked to these boys.
The first young man, maybe fourteen years old, took the blessing bag my friend offered him, telling him “God bless you.” At those words his whole face lit up and he said emphatically “God bless you!” and gave her a big hug. Then he looked at me and repeated “God bless you!” and gave me a big hug!
He blessed each lady in our group and gave each a hug. The other boys, who were also given blessing bags and thanked the ladies, were not so outgoing and one bashfully said, “I don’t want to hug you ‘cause I’m all sweaty,” so those three boys gave us all handshakes and we all blessed one another in God’s name.
God was already at work in those boys’ lives. As we gave out blessings, we received blessings in return.
Later, when all the other work teams returned to our meeting venue we listened to some of their stories too, some happy, some sad. All these stories from these encounters are fuel for prayer, prayer for those who populate our city.
My prayer is that this day of showing love to our city will not end with the closing of our “Love Where You Are” event Saturday night, but rather will only be the beginning. A beginning of continuing–
“let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
We saw God at work in our city. We took opportunities to join him in what he is doing by small, daring acts of kindness and love. Now, as we continue to do good and pray for those we encountered, may we be reapers of the harvest. For there surely is a harvest.
Oh, and one of the stories from the team that handed out flowers is that the same skate-boarding boy who gave us all hugs, when given a flower by this team, asked if he could have some flowers, was given them, and proceeded to hand them out to passers-by on the street! Harvest begun.
 Names changed to protect privacy.