We were on our way to Los Angeles a few years ago and stopped for the night in beautiful Merced, California. With the luggage safely in the room, I went to the front desk and asked where the closest grocery store was. The young woman behind the desk gave me some very general directions and we set out walking. Walking is great exercise after a day in the car, plus it gives you a chance to see things you don’t see driving. Karen, our 5-year old Daniel, and I were about to experience an incredible, eye-opening adventure.
We passed two young ladies on the corner only a few blocks from the hotel. As we passed by, I had to turn back and comment that their perfume smelled really nice. Karen asked me, “don’t you know they’re prostitutes?” I had no clue. I thought they were just two teenage girls waiting for a ride.
A bit further on were various groups of scraggly-looking men and women sitting on old five-gallon buckets drinking from brown paper sacks next to row after row of abandoned buildings. The neighborhood was a virtual ghost town. The weather was great but not a soul on the streets. No children, no one walking, barely a car. Hmmmm.
We found the store at the junction of two major boulevards, but even with all the traffic, there wasn’t anyone out on the streets. We bought what we needed and headed back toward the hotel by a slightly different route. (What can I say? I’m the typical guy who likes the scenic route.) At the corner was a man dragging a woman down the sidewalk by her hair. Literally! I pulled out my cell phone, called 9-1-1 and began walking faster to catch up to the couple. Several blocks later I lost track of the man and woman, and by the time the police showed up there was no evidence of anything anyway.
Karen and Daniel went back into our hotel room and I returned to the front desk. “Wow!” I said. “Did we have an adventure!” I relayed every detail of the trek and then added, ” If I’d known the store was 10 blocks away we would have driven.”
The jaw of the young lady at the desk dropped to the ground. “You walked?” she asked.
“We like to walk.”
“If I’d known you were going to walk, I wouldn’t have told you to leave the hotel. This isn’t a good neighborhood. No one walks anywhere.”
I went back to our room, locked the door and the row of deadbolts and chains down the doorpost, and settled in for a peaceful night of rest behind the iron gates of the hotel property.
Now most of us would avoid places like Merced, California, if we knew what it was really like; yet these are the kinds of places Jesus purposely visited. He didn’t leave Heaven to be born in a palace with a silver spoon in His mouth, a big green yard full of flowers, and Toyota Camelrays in every driveway. He came to seek and save that which was lost (Matthew 18:11). You might think that you can’t get more lost than living in Merced, California, but some of you are just as spiritually lost right where you are, sitting and reading this.