How does a street ministry begin? Perhaps as simply as with a short walk, a bottle of water, and a small kindness. For Doran Brown Mateik ‘06 it did. During her first quarter at Biola University in Los Angeles, Doran volunteered with homeless kids in a program called Say Yes! On the way from her parked car to the building she volunteered in, she passed panhandlers and people sleeping on the streets. Doran was acutely aware of social divides. Even among her homeless kids in similar straits, she had overheard comments about the “bums” on the street. Doran realized the kids she worked with were full of the same isolating stereotypes so many of us have.
Concepts run deep and everything has its status quo. Or does it?
The following week Doran did something different. She packed a case of water in her car and passed out bottles on her way in. “I thought this would be a way to show our kids they could talk to these people. It was an eye opening experience because it was just an ice breaker,” recalls Doran. Through this small gesture, hearts warmed and the people on the street began asking questions. “Who are you?” “Why are you doing this?” Doran’s response, the only one she had, was that of faith in a saving God. Gradually her walk became longer as she parked further away, in order to contact more people, and with a growing army of students began to bring food with the water.
Perhaps it’s surprising that a young lady nurtured in the protected walls of a private school would find herself a visitor to LA’s skid row. If you knew a little more about Doran and the school she called home for four years, you may not be surprised. Like many of the homeless she ministers to, Doran began life in a chaotic atmosphere. At the time of her birth, both her father and mother were addicted to drugs and HIV positive. Though her parents were infected with the AIDS virus, thankfully, it was not passed on to her. Doran was given a clean, if not easy start.
By age seven her birth parents had passed away and Doran was adopted by Steve and Lannie Brown. This began a new life for her in a stable home. Concerning Steve and Lannie, Doran says “Outside of my salvation, the Brown family is the best thing that ever happened to me. Through them I’ve learned how to see others as God sees them, to love and not be a respecter of persons.” She asks that others refer to the Browns as her parents rather than adoptive parents “because that’s definitely what they are.”
When Doran was entering her freshman year of high school, her parents sent her to Providence. The transition was academically challenging, but she learned how to focus and study. This instilled in her a solid work ethic that would carry her through the rigors of nursing school a few years down the road. The summer after her sophomore year at Providence, Doran went on a ministry trip to Los Angeles with the LA Dream Center. “I went there and fell in love with Los Angeles and inner city ministries,” recalls Doran. This set her course in a clear direction. By the time she graduated from Providence, the decision of where to go to college wasn’t difficult. Biola University, situated just outside of downtown LA, was the perfect place for her to earn a nursing degree and reach out to the homeless.
With 30,000 people living in 1.75 square blocks, LA’s skid row is one of the most densely populated places in the United States. Filled with addictions, brokenness, and the mentally ill, it is also a place full of missions, beds, meals, and medical services. “There are a bunch of churches and missions” Doran says, “but the churches go down there, hand out a sandwich and leave. We would hang out with people on the sidewalks, and what we noticed was there was a real lack of friendship and consistency.”
With this lack in view, Doran’s team gathers on Friday nights into eight groups, each cohort visiting an assigned street. The same people, same street, every week, with a goal to connect with individuals. Students bring food, water, blankets, guitars, and listening ears. During the week, they drive people to doctors’ appointments, rehab centers, the DMV. They even wash feet. They sing gospel songs in city air which take spontaneous turns. “I’m trading my sorrow, I’m trading my shame,” is sung and people begin substituting what they will trade, “I’m trading my flask, I’m trading my pipe,” and the list goes on. They are laying things down—finding joy in the Lord.
Last December, Doran came home for the holidays and planned her June wedding. She was looking forward to getting married and happy to have completed her RN, but truthfully she was also a bit restless. She missed LA and was eager to return. She missed people like Momma D, who gussied up to attend her college graduation. Speaking of her experiences with various people on the streets Doran says, “Everyone is different. Some you can get close to in two weeks and they will share their life story, for others it takes a year or two.” Here are people, like you and me, made in the image of God, who have trusted enough to let someone in. People she calls friends.
With RN in hand, Doran hopes to work with AIDS patients, many of whom will come from these same streets. The ministry is growing and donations are starting to come in from churches and individuals. The future may find her in more of a facilitating role. She hopes to see a growing number of students come out of the “Biola bubble” to care for their neighbors. Week by week, person by person, Doran and the students she ministers with are affecting the status quo. They have become patterns and role models to the homeless kids at Say Yes! In this small, densely populated corner of the earth, Doran is honoring God as well as her father and mother; she is preaching the gospel, using words when necessary.