On loving the inner city of Los Angeles, ugly and all

By Alicia Samuel

On the way to orientation for this semester’s Los Angeles term, I had what I’d like to call a mental breakdown, but what my mom would probably call a full blown tantrum.

“I don’t want to be here. Why I am doing this? Why I am even a global studies major?”

I literally screamed these at full volume in the car (Sorry, Mom, you’re a trooper). Regardless of the emotions I was feeling, my attitude was ugly, much like my view of Los Angeles before I arrived here.

As a global studies major, I am required to study away twice. The first study away opportunity is here in Los Angeles, and the second will be at one of four locations: Uganda, Colombia, Guatemala or the Philippines.. Don’t ask me where I’m going; I don’t know yet. But I dreaded the inevitable semester I would be spending in Los Angeles from the beginning.

I’ve never liked the big city because I grew up in small suburbias my whole life, anywhere from Orange County to a small town in the Inland Empire. I’m comfortable being close to the city, but not too close.

If I’m going to be honest, I still view Los Angeles as ugly in more ways than one. Today I saw a young girl peeing on the sidewalk in broad daylight while her mother watched. I saw a man lick his cigarette lighter in what I think was an attempt to get high on the bus.

Honestly, I feel disgust for Los Angeles when I witness things like this. Yet, here I am faced with these daily realities and I know deep down that they exist everywhere. What am I supposed to do about them? What will really help these people?

As I continue wrestling with these questions every day, my view of Los Angeles is starting to take a different shape than I would have expected.

As I’ve stayed in the city, I have desperately asked Jesus to pour out His love on me so that I can give it out and clearly see Him in others.

I have learned over and over that I cannot love on my own will power. I am seeing that all people are truly precious souls for whom Christ died, and it surprises me how often I have to remind myself of that.

Leaning on my stereotypical and sheltered white-privileged middle class views of Los Angeles, such as my view of the city as a dangerous and dirty place I should be afraid of, I was slow to think I would encounter the love of God here.

Not only was I mistaken in this thinking, but I was selfish. I was the ugly one, filled with cringe-worthy attitude.

I was surprised in finding this out, because I have had several cross-cultural experiences.

However, I am learning this semester bias and ugly behavior goes way deeper than one may expect, and though I may not be experiencing much beauty in the traditional sense in the inner city, I am experiencing the love of God, raw and unabashed.

I’m experiencing the love of God in the eyes of the homeless man who smiled at me on the street and prayed a blessing on my life for giving him a dollar.

I’m seeing passion through the many people whose organizations are on the front lines clashing with the biggest issues plaguing the city.

I’m inspired by my own cohort who selflessly give of their shoes and time to a woman in the Metro station so she won’t have to walk around Skid Row barefoot anymore and take some comfort in knowing that we care about her plight.

There is so something distinctly beautiful about the Angeleno soul, and I know my Los Angeles term cohort and I are learning that. I see in countless Angelenos the desire and courage to connect with strangers like I have never seen in a place before.

There may be hardships in the city, but the love of God is everywhere and overwhelming.

The love of God doesn’t diminish for anyone, and it certainly does not fade in the face of the ugly.

Through Los Angeles term, I am learning how love shows up in the darkest of predicaments and how to love the city I once thought I hated, ugly parts and all.