Christmas at Midnight
Last night HPC had a Christmas party. It wasn’t at the church, more of a ‘Midnight Outreach take-out party’. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Midnight, this is an outreach where we go to the streets, strip clubs and hang-outs that are frequented by people who are currently losing the battle to darkness. Our goal is to bring hope to the hopeless and to demonstrate the love of God to the lost and hurting. Midnight Outreach is another effort at being a healing place for a hurting world.
No party is complete without decorations, food and presents. In the early evening we loaded up the van and headed down Airline Highway to ‘Kittens’ and ‘Escapades’. Both of these establishments are referred to as ‘gentlemen’s clubs’, but I think that may be a misnomer. We had gotten permission from the managers to decorate the ladies dressing rooms so we hung streamers, tied up bows and put out the desserts and chocolates. To say the very least, the ladies were surprised to see us there. We also brought all of the dancers gifts: a Chick bag loaded with trinkets, candy, books and HPC info. Disbelief replaced suspicion as they unloaded their prizes. They simply couldn’t believe that we brought them a gift. One woman looked at a volunteer and said, “Thank y’all so much. This is the only present I’ll be getting for Christmas.” The volunteer smiled at her, told her she was welcome and reminded her that God knew where she was at. The dancer hugged her and said thank you again. Despite the fact that this woman was standing there with her clothes in her hand and a garter full of dollar bills, she recognized the unconditional love of God. How cool is that?
After the strip clubs we got ready to go to the north-side. We often do outreach at The Alamo, a by-the-hour motel that’s close to the Baton Rouge Dream Center. As we pulled in, the place looked deserted. There were a couple of people hurrying across the parking lot but not the usual crowd. Then I realized that it was almost the end of the month; when people run out of money before they run out of month, they get evicted. Hence, the empty lot. The guys got to minister to some fellas in the parking lot and we got to meet a family who’s living in one of the rooms.
If you’ve ever been in a Motel 6 you’ll have an idea of what the Alamo if like. Imagine the Motel 6, and now downgrade another 4 levels. The room was probably 12’X15’ and had 2 double beds, a dresser and a bathroom. Two sisters and their 4 children live there.
We brought them toys; the only Christmas they will have this year. They are planning on getting a place when their income tax comes in, hopefully something a little bigger. The youngest baby, Jamal, has sickle cell anemia and didn’t look well at all. We got to pray for him, his mama and everyone else in the room. His mama wiped away tears as she thanked us for coming out and praying for him. We gave gift bags to both ladies, hugged them and wished them a Merry Christmas.
After The Alamo we headed over to North Street to visit Bennie’s bar. The bouncer had never let us into the bar, but he usually takes roses in to the ladies for us. Last night, we got in. The place was pretty empty, with two ladies sitting alone at opposite ends of the bar and a weary-looking barmaid behind the counter. We gave the ladies roses and some of our volunteers started chatting with the bartender. As it turns out, she will be burying her son this morning. He died of cancer. Last month she buried her nephew, but I’m not sure that he died of natural causes. She cried as the volunteers reached across the bar and prayed with her. Outside we got to minister to the bouncer and to a woman who had just got off work. She works for the city during the day and tends bar at night. She looked tired and was grateful for prayer. We gave her a Chick bag too. As I was walking towards the van I saw one of our guys praying with the bouncer. I believe he’s had a change of heart about us.
Once we were done on the north-side we headed back to Airline. We wanted to take roses back to the ladies in the clubs and chocolates to the bouncers. We stopped by Hooters and gave the girls there their Christmas presents. You would have thought that they’d won the lottery. They were clapping and screaming and jumping up-and-down. They loved the socks and chocolates and everything else. They always enjoy the roses, but the Chick bags just put them over the top. It was wild. Escapades was really hopping, with cars parked up and down Airline for a quarter-mile. We couldn’t go back in with the roses because it was too crowded. Maybe next time. We got back into Kittens and before we left the manager pulled a volunteer aside and said, “I want to thank you again for what y’all are doing. You have no idea what this means to these girls. Thank you, really.”
Since one of the clubs wouldn’t let us back in, we had leftover roses. The only thing we could think of to do was to find another club. As it happened, Southern Kumforts was right down the road. The ladies there got roses and then we went back in with gift bags. Another dancer said that it was the only Christmas gift she was getting. Seems to be a lot of that going around.
With only a handful of roses left we decided to stop by Waffle House. After being at a motel, a bar and three strip clubs it seemed like a logical idea. The waitresses were excited to get their roses and Chick bags. The diners were even more surprised when we handed them gifts too. We wished everyone a Merry Christmas and loaded back into van.
Between 7pm and 1am we handed out 96 roses, a few cases of chocolates and 87 HPC Chick bags. We took these items into forgotten places, scary places, into places where sin normally has full control. The love of Christ, His hope and forgiveness, at least momentarily, shone very bright in those dark places.
I was pretty hyped up after the outreach so I stopped at Wal-Mart on the way home. I was cruising the deli aisle when a woman from frozen food hollered out, “Ma’am, ma’am, can I talk to you?” I half expected it to be one of the dancers, but I didn’t recognize her. I walked towards her and said, “Hey, how you doing?” She pointed at my shirt and said, “Are you from Healing Place Church?” I smiled and said yes. I asked if she went there and she said, “I don’t really go there, but I watch all the time on TV. That Pastor Rizzo guy, it’s him, right?” I nodded and said, “Yeah, Dino Rizzo. You should come check us out sometime. I think you’d like it.” She said that she definitely planned on going real soon. She asked me how she could get a shirt like mine (red Serve shirt). I explained about the Serve Team and told her about the outreach we just finished. I mentioned Escapades and her eyes got big, then I mentioned the Alamo and thought she might tip over. “Wow”, she said, “They really need that.” I grinned and said, “We all do”. She nodded and looked to the floor. I extended my hand and she looked up. I told her my name and told her I’d love to see her at church. She shook my hand and said she was coming, soon. I wished her a Merry Christmas and walked away.
I am so grateful that I belong to church who wants to make room; to make room for the broken, the lost, the sinner; to make room for me. Thank you, Healing Place Church, for making Christmas possible for so many. All glory to God!