Monday, May 16, 2005


Gerard Straub
May 13, 2005 Episode no. 837

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Finally, Lucky Severson has a story about a man in Los Angeles who takes very seriously his calling to help the poor -- around the world and also in his own backyard. And, trying to help the poor, he is becoming pretty close to poor himself.

LUCKY SEVERSON: By most standards, Gerry Straub's career is in a tailspin. His earnings, he says, have dropped from $10,000 a week to about $300, but he's not complaining.

GERARD STRAUB (Documentary Filmmaker): Happiness isn't measured by how much you can acquire, you know. I think it's maybe how much you can let go of. The more you let go of, it seems, the more you have.

SEVERSON: He's let go of almost everything, except his work, which has become his obsession and now his mission. Straub makes documentaries about the world's poverty, hoping it will motivate us to do something about it. This is from one of his films called RESCUE ME.

Mr. STRAUB (From Film RESCUE ME): We need more than an emotional response to the poor. We need more than feelings of sorrow and regret. We need to be moved by grace to action. When we here the cries of the oppressed, the cries of the poor, we hear the voice of God.

SEVERSON: The World Bank estimates that one in six of us -- that's 1.1 billion people -- live in extreme poverty worldwide. Eight million people die each year because they don't have the food, water, medicine, or other necessities we take for granted. That means on average, because of poverty, 20,000 people died today and yesterday and will again tomorrow.

Mr. STRAUB: I think it's immoral that people are starving to death. I think it's immoral that so many people are living on the streets. I think it's immoral that our lives are so centered on acquiring more things when quite clearly the gospel has a totally different message. It's about caring for each other.

SEVERSON: Straub says he has found his Catholic faith again, after losing it somewhere along the way. As a younger man, he earned lots of money and recognition producing daytime soap operas like the popular GENERAL HOSPITAL. But says he was unfulfilled. He turned against organized religion altogether after his stint as producer of the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 CLUB. By then, he says, he was spiritually empty and searching for truth. He found himself in a church in Rome, reading Psalm 63, about a soul searching for God.

Mr. STRAUB: Something happened. I just felt this presence of God. I just was overwhelmed by this sense of love. And then I remember getting up, and I bowed before the crucifix in the tabernacle and just, like, electricity went through my body.

SEVERSON: In that moment, he says, he was transformed from an atheist to a pilgrim, on a journey to lend a voice to those he says Christ identified with most -- the poorest and least among us. His belief, at its core, is that to get close to God, you must first get close to the poor.

Mr. STRAUB: You show your love for God by how you treat the poor. That's all through the Old Testament. It's all through the New Testament.

(From Film RESCUE ME): Who are these people we call poor, people we so easily judge and dismiss? They are Jesus in a distressing disguise. In the faces of the poor, we see the face of Christ, and we are called to love them with the criteria with which we will be judged.

SEVERSON: Straub has shot and produced eight documentaries in 11 countries. He's focused his lens on everything -- from lepers in Brazil to the 75,000 people who eke out a life at the mountain of garbage known as Payatas outside Manila. He has formed a nonprofit foundation called San Damiano, named after the church where St. Francis of Assisi committed his life to those who have the least. Not surprisingly, St. Francis is his hero. Straub's videos are shown at fund raisers, and the proceeds go to Christian charities working with the poor.

In this country, Straub did not have to go far to find poverty -- his backyard. Fifty square blocks of misery in downtown Los Angeles known as "Skid Row."

Mr. STRAUB (From Film RESCUE ME): On these streets, you will find more agony than angels. On these streets, you are closer to hell than heaven.

SEVERSON: On any given night, one million Americans are homeless. Ten thousand of them live on Skid Row -- strung out, hungry, and afraid.

Mr. STRAUB: The amazing thing about being on Skid Row was to learn just how many women and children were living on the streets. How many people that were not alcoholics, that were not drug addicts, that the bottom simply fell out. I mean, you began to see how many people are just a paycheck or two away from having nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED HOMELESS WOMAN (From Film RESCUE ME): Well, I just want to be able to make decisions for myself, you know. I'm a grown person. I've worked before. I want to work again. I like working. I want to do the kind of work I was doing before, like a nurse's aide, whatever.

SEVERSON: Ralph Plumb is a former director of the Union Rescue Mission in the part of L.A. that is Skid Row. He says Straub spent so many months among the poor, they came to trust him.

RALPH PLUMB (Former Director, Union Rescue Mission): Whereas in the initial stages, they might have been defensive or maybe even taken a swing at him or told him to get lost, over time he really expressed his compassion for the people, and they wanted to talk to him because they had a story to tell.

SEVERSON: Straub says the Skid Row experience taught him that being poor in the United States is actually worse than in other countries where people are surrounded by poverty.

Mr. STRAUB: Mother Theresa said something about that years ago, that she thought the poverty in America was really the worst she had ever seen, and I thought to myself after being in Calcutta, I said, "What could she have been thinking?" Well, it was the spiritual poverty here, not only just for us -- I mean people who have money -- but the poor and the homeless, I mean, really live lives of isolation, lives of rejection, lives of deep shame.

SEVERSON: Straub says he has never witnessed, among the affluent, the generosity he's seen among the poor.

Mr. STRAUB: In the slums you saw real life. You saw, you know, real life-and-death struggles. You saw incredible acts of humanity -- the generosity of the poor, one to each other and to me. You know, it just knocked me over.

SEVERSON: Sometimes the suffering is simply overwhelming. This little boy called Moses, for instance, from El Salvador is inflicted with an incurable blistering disease.

Mr. STRAUB (From Film RESCUE ME): Yet all the suffering in the world was for me embodied in this one small, fragile boy. Moses is without a doubt the saddest person I have ever seen.

I struggle with doubts every day I see little Moses, and you know, there are times I get so overwhelmed by the suffering that I really can't help crying. Does it cause me to doubt God? No. It just causes me to go deeper into that suffering. I think that's what Christ was about.

SEVERSON: His home is his sanctuary, where he meditates and prays and braces himself for his next project. Straub says his obsession to help the poor is slowly forcing him to the poorhouse, but it's a price he's willing to pay.

Mr. STRAUB: I'm on the verge of losing my house. I mean, I worry about those things, but I do have great confidence that I am doing what I am supposed to do and that things will work out. Christ isn't looking for us to give our spare change. He wants us to give our very lives.

SEVERSON: For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Lucky Severson in Los Angeles.

© 2005 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Do you know Jesus?

My good friend, April recently gave me a book written by Rolland and Heidi Baker called "Always Enough." I like to refer to April as my prayer sherpa because she is filled with the Spirit, she constantly encourages me, and she's generally looking out for my best interests. So knowing my heart for missions and worship, she gave me this little paperback book and wrote a nice little note inside the front cover.

She knew I was broken from my trip to Jamaica so her discerning voice said to buy this book for me. I tore into it while I was on a recent business trip in Phoenix, Arizona. I absolutely abhor these types of trips, especially when I go by myself. I'm not much for going to dinner by myself nor holing up in my room to watch all the cable channels I purposefully don't have at home. So I took my little friend, "Always Enough" with me to Cabberra's for dinner one night.

She was right; the book was very convicting, moving, emotional, Spirit filled, and God inspired. I was enthralled from the beginning pages and kept pressing in. I'm actually surprised I didn't read it all in a night, but I needed to process some of the things Rolland and Heidi had journaled.

Later in the week, I took the book to Chipotle for dinner and then on to the movies. By this time we were becoming good buddies, the book and I. As I read in the theater, while waiting for the movie to play, I read a journal entry about a Holy Spirit experience that Heidi Baker encountered.

"Man," I thought to myself. "What I wouldn't give to be in God's presence for a few hours like that."

Sometimes it's dangerous to start comparing yourself to other Christians. You should really compare yourself to Christ to truly appreciate how far you have to go. But it was still difficult to quell the desire to experience the manifestation of the Spirit like she did.

As I walked out of the theater, I passed a few bars and noticed how the night life had suddenly come to life in comparison to my entrance to the theaters. My heart burned for these people who were trying to fill a void in their hearts with a malt, hop, and barley beverage instead. I approached my green-blue-gray intermediate automobile I had rented earlier in the week and noticed a piece of paper wedged in my door handle.

"What's this?" I wondered.

I pulled the piece of paper out and flipped it over.


"Yeah" I muttered to myself and immediately looked around for the culprit. I wanted to talk to them about God. I was hungry for fellowship, for a connection to God. No one.

I scanned the parking lot to check out the automobiles around me, my eyes bouncing from door handles to windshields to any place imaginable one could insert a small piece of paper. Nada.

I got in my sedan and drove up and down the aisles of the parking lot convinced I would find my questioners. But there was no one who fit the description and I exited the parking lot.


I slowly began repeating the words "Yahweh, Yeshua, Jesus" over and over again until it almost became a chant. And then I cried out with all my might, "JESUS!!!"

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Gemel 2 (Gimel)

There it was again, at the beginning of Psalm 119. I was particularly struck by verse 18 which reads, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law."

Monday, May 09, 2005

I Worship You

Written by Erik Carlson
May 9, 2005 (approximately 12:30 am)


I lift my hands up.
I lift my voice up.
I lift my heart to worship you.

I lift my eyes up.
I lift my joy up.
I lift my soul to worship you.


Jesus, you're my king of kings,
My all in all, my everything.
Jesus, I worship you.

You're my prince of peace, you're the breath of life,
The holy one, you are salt and light.
Jesus, I worship you.

In all I do, I worship you.


Jesus, you're the holy fire
My majesty, my soul's desire
Jesus, I worship you.

You're my mighty rock, the blessed one
My sword and shield, God's only son
Jesus, I worship you.

Copyright 2005 | All Rights Reserved | Seventhseed Records

Friday, May 06, 2005


You have to love the heart of Bill; he's got the heart of Jesus. The first time that you meet him, you're instantly drawn to him for some strange reason.

When my wife and I started attending our church, I distinctly remember our conversation when one of us said, "You see that guy up on stage, playing the acoustic guitar, with a really strong 5 o'clock shadow? We need to get to know him."

I repeated those words back to him one day in Pastor Richard's office and our friendship blossomed from there. I can't tell you how much we have in common; the list would go on indefinitely.

So when Bill writes you and says, "You've got to meet this marvelous woman I met at IHOP! I've invited her to come speak at our house next Tuesday night." You go.

When I met Christa Damm, I was taken back at her quiet, beautiful spirit. You could easily tell that this was a woman who wanted nothing more than to chase after the heart of God. As I sat next to her at the dining room table, I sensed this peace I hadn't felt for a long time. Her mere presence reminded me of my late grandmother who was a Jesus lover too, and it warmed my heart to make the comparison.

She tore into stories about her life, growing up in Germany during the war and scavenging for food for the family of ten. She spoke of God's great divine intervention in her life, His protection over her and her family. And before long, she was talking about the lost and forgotten generation of Indian children who are at the bottom of the caste system with no relief in sight. She passed around images of children, images that would rip your heart out and tear to the bone. These children were gypsies and moslems and lived in a part of India where less than 1% knew Jesus. That's where Christa is being called, is being pulled, to make an impact in the Kingdom of Christ.

I hung onto every word. It was naturally affirmation that this is what I am being drawn into. But God was speaking to me that night. "It's not about you, Erik. It's about Me. Let this be a time about Me and not about what I have in store for you." Those were words that I hadn't heard much before, probably because I've always been too busy asking God to speak to me with my hands clasped over my ears and my eyes shut tight. But tonight it was as clear as day.

I was devouring some chips and salsa the Butlers had provided, which served more or less as my dinner that night. Suddenly out of no where, Christa grabbed my arm and said, "Take your time, my dear." But those words shoke me more than the tangible thought of slowing down eating some chips.

God wants me to slow down and listen to Him. Afterall, it's not about me. It's about God.


Last fall at the "8" and I had a vision of a HUGE Jesus out in outer space? He was enormous and had his hands clasped as if cradling something in the palms of his hands. From his hands was a glowing sphere of brilliant light and as I got closer I realized that it was a ring. Inscribed on the ring was a Hebrew letter called a "gimel" and in Aramaic is called "gemel" which when I dug a little more means lifted-up and a gift from God. Then I found a story about a gimel/gemel ring and King Solomon (see below).

- - - - -

One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, "Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it."

"If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty," replied Benaiah, "I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?"

"It has magic powers," answered the king. "If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy." Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of he poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day's wares on a shabby carpet. "Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?" asked Benaiah.

He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile.

That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. "Well, my friend," said Solomon, "have you found what I sent you after?" All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled.

To everyone's surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, "Here it is, your majesty!" As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: "gimel, zayin, yud", which began the words "Gam zeh ya'avor" -- "This too shall pass."

At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

- - - - -

I kind of thought at the time that this was God's way of telling me that I would be getting of Maytag soon...which happened. But I had a huge epiphany last night to which God completely bonked me over my head. I have had this burden on my heart to re-establish a relationship with our sponsored child through Compassion International. We've had 3 or 4 children so far and they've all moved out of the area of the Compassion project. So last year we were assigned a little boy from Kenya. The first picture of him will break you; his clothes are ragged and he's frowning. And we've done a horrible job of communicating with him as of late. So last night I decided I was going to sit down and write to him. So I rush downstairs to hop on the computer to look up his name and contact information. And I paused, stopped dead in my tracks realizing that his name is Gemel Aosen Mohamod. The English translation of gemel is "in pairs; a twin."

Who knows what all of that is supposed to mean? But it certainly seems like it's a God thing.



I’ve never been one for reading lips, but I swear he was mouthing the word ‘leave’ to me.


There it was again. I must have looked at him with a bit of confusion, but this time I was certain that he was telling me to get up and leave my bench under the shady tree.

I had just spent the last half hour book ended on a bench with my friend and fellow missionary Joey. Between us sat two teenagers who spent a majority of their time laughing and discussing automatic weapons with another peer who paced back and forth in front of us. We were both convinced it was just another manipulative tactic on their end to intimidate a couple of naïve tourists from the United States.

“Those guns will just bring you right back to this place” chimed Joey, finally disgruntled with their tough-guy talk.

“Or dead,” I said softly.

“What did you say?” one of the youths sitting next to me asked.

“You might end up dead,” I said bluntly, not flinching, keeping eye contact with him to let him know how serious I was.

I was surprised at how quickly he backed down from his banter and promptly confided he’d never touched a gun before. We chatted about how corrupt the police and government are in Jamaica before they went on their separate ways one-by-one.

I suddenly realized I was sitting on the bench by myself and noticed another older, well-dressed teen walking my direction. And that was the precise moment in which I was encouraged to leave. I didn’t have much time to assess the situation, but unexpectedly I felt a little uncomfortable by this youth’s direction to leave. So I trusted him.

I followed the poorly dressed youth to the side of the carpentry workshop. He greeted me by saying, “You don’t want to talk to those kids; they are very bad. Go in the workshop and look around at the furniture they are building.”

Three adults who were hard at work on their respective furniture pieces occupied the workshop, which was built to teach a new vocation to the children at Copse Place of Safety. Sadly, there were no children apprentices learning the new skill, and the carpenters were too focused on their Guinness beer and sanding than they did in conversing with me.

“Do you ever get a chance to work in here with these men?” I asked the youth standing at the door of the workshop.
He numbly shook his head.

He was starting to chip away at my heart. He was starting to earn my trust and vice versa. I had spent an evening earlier in the week, discussing with the men of my church why I wanted God to break my heart on this trip. The desert I had been wandering in for so long was beginning to take a toll on me, and I wanted to get this over with a broken heart. Perhaps I was carelessly taunting God, but I had never predicted how He would break my heart. Now it was clearly beginning to unravel before my eyes.

I spent the next couple of hours conversing with this youth and learning about his upbringing. He had only been at Copse Place of Safety a little over a month. His father had been killed in some sort of accident and a drug dealer had recently murdered his mother. Because he had no other family in Jamaica, the government dumped him here with the other youths, ages ranging from 7-18.

“Are you a Christian?” I curiously probed, wondering what type of mentoring and education they are receiving at this Christian-based organization.

“Not yet,” he replied. “This place is too violent, and I can’t be a Christian and still be able to defend myself.”

“I’m pretty sure Jesus will forgive you for defending yourself,” I said, trying not to push the envelope too much.

We sat on the edge of the basketball court, which was built by missionaries the year before, and watched the children aggressively wrestle in the pea gravel. The other youth were trying to knock fruit out of the trees to eat, using lumber scraps and large stones. He shared grimly stories about the violence that occurs at Copse almost daily and spoke about being bullied by the older kids who would also steal money from the younger children. He shared with me a time when the older kids rubbed toothpaste on his eyes while he slept at night. And he talked about a time when another child was stabbed with an ice pick.

“What do you want to do when you get out of here?” I asked hoping for a brighter future for my newfound friend.

I discovered that he hadn’t completely lost his childhood as he explained how much he loved skateboarding. And while he admitted he wasn’t all that good with skateboarding tricks, one could easily see that he missed his beloved sport.

We spent the next hour or so talking about trivial subject matters like Michael Jackson, sports, why Jamaican men don’t have earrings (he discovered the pierced hole in my left ear) and so on. He even spent some time teaching me the rules of cricket and set up a makeshift field on the basketball court. In my experiences with children, there is always a demand to be the batter but in this case he was happy enough to pitch to me.

“I’ll remember this day for a long time,” he said without breaking his stare at the ground before him.

Those words resonated in my soul. They humbled me. And I wasn’t sure how to respond. I knew in my heart that I would remember this day and this child forever, and I started processing why God brought me to this place.

I reached into my pocket and secretly slid a handful of dollar bills over to him. I explained it wasn’t much, but it was all that I had to give to him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much sincere appreciation before in my life.

“Do you want to see the jail?” he later asked of me.

I was hesitant to go any further in the confines of the facility partially out of fear for my safety. But we had developed some mutual trust of one another in this short time so I nodded and followed him to a small courtyard. There stood two hardened teens behind bars chatting with another teen on the outside. He explained to me that these children are locked behind these walls 24 hours a day to protect the other children and to reprimand these youth for violent crimes committed. The locked up teens are isolated from one another and I learned that there were additional cells on the backside of the building, inaccessible from the outside world to converse with their peers.

My little friend suddenly became my very quiet shadow when I noticed some of the older teens walking about. Unintimidated I approached several of them with outstretched hands, shared my name and asked of theirs.

“I thought you were afraid of me,” said the older teen that had approached my bench earlier in the day. I later learned that Joey befriended this youth and shared his troubled story from his teen years in hopes of chipping away at a hardened heart.

“Oh, I’m not afraid of you,” I said calmly shaking his hand.

“Do you have anything to give to me?” he immediately asked sizing me up.

I found it interesting that the best dressed and largest of Copse Place of Safety had immediately targeted me for money, which I easily gave without asking to my friend an hour earlier; praying that this time it wouldn’t be ripped from him.

“I’m sorry man. I don’t have anything with me. The next time I come, I’ll bring stuff for you guys.” I said convinced I would be back with a truckload of resources and basic necessities for these young kids.

I glanced down the gravel road and noticed some delegates from our missions team were returning to collect us for our trip back to Montego Bay. My heart sunk as I suddenly realized I would have to say goodbye to my little friend.

I spotted Brad, the remaining third person who elected to stay behind for the day and let God move through Him and the experience. Brad already had such a wonderful, quiet spirit about him and I could tell that he was deeply moved and trying to process this whole experience.

“Erik, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Garrett.” Brad spoke gently to me with a warm and reassuring voice.

I extended my hand to the fourteen year-old boy and shook his lifeless hand. Lifeless. His spirit was broken, and he wore it on his face and his slumped shoulders. My heart broke some more.

The team was just arriving to the epicenter of Copse Place of Safety and instructed us that it was time to return to the buses.

I turned to my friend with desperation and sadness in my voice and said, “I wish I could take you back with me, but I can’t. But I will carry you in my heart forever. I’ll be back,” I said struggling not to crumple into tears.

He nodded. He understood. He was disappointed, but he believed me.

I made my way down the gravel road with the rest of the team and turned one more time to remember my friend. His eyes met mine and he nodded again. We waved to each other and I put my sunglasses over my teary eyes.

At the gates of West Haven, we paused and took a picture with the kids who had followed us down to the buses. Then we said our goodbyes and started down the path to our transportation.

Brad gently rested his fatherly hand on my shoulder and said, “Are you going to be okay?”

I lost it and wept. And for the first time in my life, I finally understood the correlation to John 11:35 which reads, “Jesus wept.”

Please pray for the salvation, safety and health of my friend, Handre Jones Richardo.