“Theresa”

May 15, 2008

I used to go down to a certain couple of blocks in Skid Row, down town LA, every Friday night. It was my brother Ryan’s idea… With time, we had a team of believers coming with us every week. We would all pitch in some money and buy as many 50c tacos as we were able… We’d offer these small gifts to the homeless people we met, we’d sit and talk with them, and we’d tell them of the hope that even the most hopeless and hurting could find in Jesus, the Savior. Ryan called the ministry I.G.N.I.T.E  (Inviting God’s Needy Into The Everlasting).

I have not been a part of this ministry for years, and nor has Ryan (who now lives in Nashville). The Lord has been pleased to continue it though – through a stream of successors who have continued to take His truth, His love, and the hope found in Him to dozens of hurting, hopeless people who sleep on the streets of Skid Row every night. 

Rachel Thompson is one sister who has been a part of this ministry. In her visits to Skid Row she came to know a lady named Theresa:   

Theresa

The setting was such:

It was 10:30 p.m. on Friday night. I, along with my dear friend and sister, Miriam Blankenship, had just settled into a half sitting, half ready-to-jump-up-at-any-given-moment position on the spotted pavement on the corner of 6th and San Julian. The area is commonly referred to as “skid row.” We sat facing a woman named Theresa. She was busy yelling at a man who stood begging for one of her cigarettes. She’d already given him one, but he wanted more. She told him to go away—that she wanted to talk to her friends. We were the friends to whom she was referring. We’d gained the title after the first few visits to her corner. This was the third time I’d ever seen her, and by now we were pretty comfortable with each other. I could give her a hug upon greeting, and ask about her kids. We sat and looked up at Theresa, waiting for the story that might come if we were patient. It did come in a way…and what is written here are the raw words spoken by the woman herself. Theresa is an African American woman about forty years old who looks more like she’s twenty. On this particular night she sat covered in a few layers off blankets, next to a radio turned down low and an old white woman with permanent brain damage whether from birth, an accident, or (presumably) drugs. Near the end of the conversation, Miriam and I both wondered whether we’d ever heard anything like it before. And we decided without saying it out loud or discussing it afterwards, that we hadn’t.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Us (Miriam and I): Alright, you said you’d tell us about your life.

Theresa: Yeah. Ok. Well… I was raised in poverty—but I was very ambitious.

She went on to explain. Her first job was as a waitress. Then she became a medical assistant. At age sixteen, “I started to manipulate the system” she said. We didn’t ask how. But from age fourteen to age sixteen, she says she was making about two to three thousand a week. But then her mom was thrown in jail and Theresa got the job of raising her siblings.

Theresa: I started reading autobiographies.

But all that ambition was going to be challenged. At age seventeen Theresa got pregnant.

Theresa: You know those people who tell you that you can get pregnant after having sex once? Well, it’s true. I’m proof.

Her first daughter’s name was Joy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We moved on to the subject of Christians….

Theresa: I’ll whip your ass with the Bible.

Us: Do you think you’re going to Heaven?

Theresa: I don’t think I’m going to heaven because I’m in Hell now.

Us: What bugs you about the Christians you’ve known?

Theresa: When somebody would just walk up to me and say ‘God loves’ me, that would just turn me off…
I did whatever I had to do to get my kids out of this place. Literally, you take it for whatever it means. I have no shame. Most of the people from the missions and all that, they come from different states and I know they don’t get what I’m going through so I don’t listen to them.

Us: Why do you let us talk to you?

Theresa: You guys got the love of God in you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Theresa: I hooked a guy that liked me and he paid my rent…I couldn’t stand him…

Us: But you stayed with him anyway?

~~~~~~~~~~~

Theresa: So what else you wanna’ know?

She said this with bored eyes, her lips parted.

Us: What is prostitution like down here? How could we help prostitutes who want to escape that lifestyle?

Theresa: There’s different forms of prostitution…you gotta’ understand. The prostitution down here is f—ing for dope. Prostitution down here isn’t about the money. It’s about the dope. So if you want to help girls down here, you gotta get em’ off dope first.

Us: listening intently.

Theresa: The average prostitute in Hollywood makes $1,200 a night. If she makes less than that she’s in trouble with her pimp. Down here, pimps are called “daddies”.
Girls in the inner cities—the game is totally different.

Us: How so?

Theresa: A bitch down here thinks she turns a good trick if she gets 5 dollars. Prostitution has nothing do with sex. It has nothing to do with sex; very, very little. A pretty transsexual will make more than the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen. You have a lot of business men down here. A man don’t have to make a lot of money to get a prostitute. It’s not about sex it’s about perversion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I told Theresa about the few times Miriam and I had been mistaken for prostitutes down here on skid row.

Theresa: Black men think you guys are dumb—easy to use. No matter where you come from, white girls are very gullible. Really…you know it’s true.

We both looked at each other and nodded. Theresa ripped off the outside edges of the taco we’d given her. It’s hard around the corners.

Us: How do your kids feel about you living down here?

Theresa: They don’t know.

Long silence.

Us: How do you survive down here?

Theresa: I separate myself. The only things that hurts me is if I see a black woman with her kids down here.

She went on to explain…

Theresa: I don’t understand poor white people. You could never make me understand how a white person could be poor in America. I have no compassion, no understanding for them. I don’t even let my kids talk to them. Because whatever it is that makes them white and poor, I don’t want it rubbing off my babies.

Us: Do you ever cry down here?

Theresa: Over different stuff…things that I felt my kids went through, yeah. Hell yeah.
Trusting the wrong people…

Us: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever experienced?

Theresa: Being homeless with my kids.

Us: Did anyone help you?

Theresa: God.
I compromised. I bought them the best clothes. I did whatever I had to do to take care of my kids.

Us: Did you still do that now?

Theresa: Psh, no comment.

Us: How was it for your kids down here?

Theresa: They got used to seeing the rats. Skid row is a world of its own.

Us: If you could tell people one thing about your experience living on skid row, what would is be?

Theresa: If you can make it down here, you can make it anywhere.

Us: So you just don’t let anything bother you?

Theresa: You’ve gotta’ have a ‘don’t f— with me’ attitude.

Us: Have you ever seen anyone get killed?

Theresa: Yeah. I saw a guy get thrown out a window. He molested a little boy. Everybody knew who did it [who killed him].

Us: Did anybody do anything about it?

Theresa: No, don’t nobody tell when somebody kills somebody. Who gonna’ tell? Especially when he molested a child. Anybody who molested a child should be killed.

We started to say something in response, but she looked at me and asked if I’d ever known someone who’d been molested. She said that it does something to a person, and it doesn’t matter how much time has past—they can’t ever heal from it. Miriam asked her something to the effect of, “how do you know?” to which she responded:

Theresa: End of conversation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Us: What kind of things do the people down here talk about?

Theresa: People stop. Talk. Laugh. We talk about the past—about what we hope the future will be.

“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
– Genesis 6:5,6

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
– 1 John 4:14-18

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