Living a Life that Matters
by Evan Gratz
Growing up with my mom as a social worker, I spent a lot of time around people in need. And I knew that growing up in the church, one of the things we were supposed to do as Christians was to serve others. By watching the example of my parents, I learned not only the importance of helping others, but through my own experience, it helped shape my faith to where the bible was no longer words on a page, but a living truth.
In 2005 I took a group of High School students to the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles’s “Skid Row” district. I had heard about Skid Row before, mostly because of the 80’s hair band with the same name, but I was not prepared for what I was about to witness and experience. It was an early Saturday morning and our plan was to meet up at church, with 4 freshman boys and one other adult leader (who happened to be a board member at the URM), at 8am, which was a task in itself. But the boys all made it on time and came eager to work and serve lunch. Upon arriving at the URM, it was clear that just 30 minutes down the road from our safe community (literally ranked #1 as the safest community in the country with a population over 75,000), we were stepping out of our comfort zone. If I was honest, pulling into the underground parking lot, I was a bit nervous and anxious to get out of there and back on the road home. I battled my own insecurities that day as I allowed God to speak.
That was the first day I had the privilege of meeting CEO of the URM, Andy Bales. Andy spent time with our guys, spoke to us about homelessness and everything that comes along with it. He even took the time to serve lunch with our group, after giving us a full tour of the 5 story building, rooms, facilities etc. We ended up serving over 400 meals at lunch, and the boys all begged me to stay so we could serve dinner that night too. Which we did.
My moment: During our tour, Andy took us up to the rooftop. I won’t ever forget it. We were all in complete silence for what to me felt like an hour as we looked over the 40 block radius of over 11,000 wall to wall people who had nowhere else to go. I had all the youth ministry training, I knew all of the scriptures, I could engage well with students, but nothing could’ve prepared me for that moment when God broke my heart for “The Least of These.” The sights, smells, sounds… It was as if that place somehow was the only thing that made sense, even though I couldn’t come close to comprehending the questions WHY or HOW it existed. I was caught and convicted. How could I go back to my home, bed and for the most part “regular” life after seeing what I was seeing. I didn’t know what, but all I knew was that I wanted to DO SOMETHING.
I went home that night and wrote on a piece of notebook paper (which I still have) “I want to cure homelessness.” I believe that moment inspired me to write my book “It’s Only A Candy Bar.” It also drew me closer to God in profound ways. My wife and I began taking our spare time to load up backpacks full of snacks, socks, hygiene kits etc. and walking around places like Venice Beach, Hollywood and the Santa Monica Pier, simply to engage and ask people how they’re doing. No hidden agenda, no tracks or pamphlets, but just trying to help with any basic need we could, none more important than an intentional conversation. I cling to Mother Teresa’s quote: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”
When something like that changes your heart and perspective, there really is no turning back in your faith. The boys felt it too. We went back 2 months later. This time… With 38 high school students! Simply because, by the example of these young men, they knew it was something they wanted to be part of. I’ll never forget calling our senior pastor, early that Saturday morning, getting him out of bed because he needed to help us drive! The kids just kept coming.
Here’s what I took away from that and one of my encouragements and challenges to you: Is that sometimes you need to watch someone love something, before you can love it yourself. I saw that early in my parent’s example, at the URM through Andy’s example and our students watched it through the example of those faithful 4. So then, when I went back to the scriptures, I was able to connect it to an action and it was if that’s what Jesus had been teaching about the entire time. His call was never to just learn it, but to DO it. That’s how our faith is transformed.
So who’s example are you watching? And what message are you sending with your own example?
I have maintained a great relationship with Andy Bales and have gleaned from his mentorship, friendship and Christ-like example. Last fall, I was sitting in his office there at the URM on Skid Row, after many trips to that area, I was no longer afraid. In fact, in some ways that place became one of the most comfortable areas for me to spend time. Andy spent time with me, praying over my family, talking about a college mentorship program and partnership with our UCLA students and the kids at URM and visioning with me about what massive, urgent needs still existed in the area.
Today, Andy Bales is living with 3 different flesh eating bacteria’s that he obtained on one of his “water walks” through the streets of Skid Row. He’s close to losing his right foot, and the doctor’s say he’ll never walk again. This from a man who is 2 year removed from running a triathalon.
But he still goes to work every day. He is weak and in a wheelchair and continues fighting for the people who society has counted as lost, or doesn’t count at all. He calls them his “precious ones.”
Because of his heart and dedication, he’s changed the trajectory and given hope and a future to thousands of people who have been forgotten. And he’s inspired countless people to live a life that matters.
For whatever that looks like for you, I want to challenge you to watch the example of someone like Andy, and ask yourself each day, “What’s one thing I’m doing throughout my day that has an eternal significance?”
I believe we become like the people we follow. And that’s exactly why God sent Jesus as the perfect example of how to love and serve others.
May you feel empowered to live a life like Paul says in Phil. 1:27 “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” And Col. 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as if working for the Lord, and not human masters.”
And may you continue to live a life that truly matters.
To Read more about Andy’s story. Click here: