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Norfolk Christian's trip to Los Angeles' Skid Row

To many, Los Angeles spells glitz, glamour and Hollywood but Sarah Johnston's mission trip earlier this year brought a largely hidden and forgotten area of poverty, hopelessness and violent gang culture to light. Sandie Shirley reports.

SarahJohnston420Sarah left the comfort of her home on the Norfolk and Suffolk border for a whirlwind of contrasting missions in LA and Mexico. From working with various charities in LA's Skid Row, to seeing dozens of Mexicans make a dramatic pledge of faith, she has returned with a fresh vision for outreach.    
The pharmacy technician from Barningham joined a two-week mission trip as part of a ministry training course which began last September at the Christian Growth Centre in Chelmsford, Essex with M:power (empowering and equipping for ministry). 
Recalling her trip she says: "Walking towards Skid Row, the first thing that hits you is the smell and the scale of the poverty with between 11,000 to 15,000 homeless people sitting amongst the rubbish in the gutter. Some are mentally ill; high on drugs or perfectly lucid and just two blocks away are the opulent banks and insurance companies."
There are countless charities helping within this vast community where AIDS, sex offenders, criminals and prostitutes also abound.  During the fortnight, Sarah and her 24-strong team helped serve hundreds of meals and worked in the clothing store at the warehouse/church run by the Jonah Project.
The vision of a 20-year-old that turned an ex hospital into The Dream Centre also came into focus. The Centre has been helping to rescue and rehabilitate people from addictions, homelessness, abuse and human trafficking since it began in 1994, explains Sarah. The visionary behind this massive project started by setting-up a table and chair outside a church, intent on reaching out to the needs of the  community.

"Now The Dream Centre serves 40,000 people a month and receives one million pounds worth of food donations every month. It just goes to show what the power of one can do," says Sarah.
"We also met Ernest – a former boxer who lived on Skid Row for 14 years before he became a Christian. Today he runs the Dream Machine – a gym where youngsters can do their homework, workout and learn to box.
SkidRowHappyMac420"Much of our work was getting alongside the Christians that run these projects, praying for their needs and helping to encourage them," says Sarah. "We also prayed for those living on Skid Row.  A lot are there due to broken relationships. Many are professional people who had made bad choices and lost everything. We sat with them and listened and then asked if we could pray for them and for me, this is what church is all about."
Part of her week in LA involved learning about the Homeboy Industries – bakeries and cafes launched by Father Gregory, a Jesuit priest, 25 years ago to help stem the violent gang culture. Father Gregory believed that nothing stops a bullet like a job and the successful Homeboy Industries employ and train adolescent gang members to bake bread, produce and serve first-class food and use silk screen printing to make saleable t-shirts and sweatshirts. 
"The Homeboy Industries is a moving example of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair. It reminds us that no life is less valuable than another," says Sarah. Today the scheme has grown with free mental health counselling, tattoo removal, legal services, job development and case management. The gang intervention programme has also been replicated worldwide.
A week at San Felipe in the desert region of Mexico marked the final leg of Sarah's trip. She arrived on the back of a month of prayer for the 'Paint the Town Red' evangelism mission with The Grand Commission Church in a town that was also noted for witchcraft and drugs. 
"We prayed around the streets before making house-to-house calls with red balloons and praying with the help of an interpreter. People were so open-hearted and pleased to see us as we invited them to a fun day and prayed for their health and finances. Many wanted to know Jesus – including many backslidden Christians – it was so simple and incredible but we were reaping what the church had sown in prayer before we arrived."
Pictured above is Sarah Johnson and Skid Row in LA (by Happy Mac).

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