The 16-hour drive to Los Angeles from Portland led us to stop for the night in Merced, California. Safely checked into the hotel, I went to the front desk and asked the distance to the nearest grocery store. The young woman gave me some very general directions and we set out walking.
We passed two young ladies standing on the corner. As we passed by, I turned and told the two teenagers that they smelled really nice. I was clueless that they were prostitutes.
A bit further on was a group of scraggly-looking men and women sitting on five-gallon buckets drinking from brown paper sacks. They stared at us. Abandoned buildings without end. No children, no pedestrians, barely a car. Hmmmm.
The small store was at the junction of two major boulevards, yet there wasn’t a soul walking on the streets. We bought what we needed and outside the store encountered a big man dragging a scantily-clothed woman by her hair. I pulled out my phone, called 9-1-1 and began racing to catch the couple. I lost the couple by the time the police arrived.
Back at the hotel I crossed through the high iron fence that surrounded the hotel and stopped again at the front desk. “Wow!” I said, “Did we have an adventure!” I relayed every detail of the trek and then added, “It was quite a walk!”
The jaw of the young lady at the desk dropped to the ground. “You walked?” she gasped.
“We like to walk.”
“If I’d known you were going to walk, I’d have discouraged you. This isn’t a good neighborhood. No one walks here.”
I went back to the room, locked the door and the row of deadbolts and chains down the doorpost, and settled in for a peaceful night of rest behind those iron gates of the hotel property.
Most of us would avoid places like Merced if we knew what it was really like; yet this was the world Jesus left Heaven to enter. He didn’t leave Heaven for a place with nice houses, serene flowered yards, 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 visiting Merced, California, but without Christ Jesus you are actually more lost.