I was standing in the back of the church waiting to pray for people. As one of the elders (A rather silly designation for my 22 year old self) we would pray for anyone who had needs during the musical worship time. A man I had never seen before just happened to come to the front of the line as I had a vacancy. As you can see from the picture he has Rutger Hauer ice blue eyes and has a habit of looking directly into your eyes which can make you want to hide. As I was uncomfortably being looked at, or through, he shared about his need for prayer. He had been doing work in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Santa Ana California, among the Cambodian community. He was particularly successful in leading a group of Christian young people. But he had had a break through with some of the local Cambodian gang members, and they began to give their lives to Christ and come to the bible study he was leading. The problem was the Christian kids and their parents didn’t want the gangsters there. In my immaturity I tried to give him a little advice, but then prayed for him.
When our time of prayer was over I asked if I could talk to him more, that his ministry was very intriguing to me. We exchanged numbers and I gave him a call later in that week. That phone call forever changed my life.
Dave invited me to come out to have lunch with him in his neighborhood. I saw the humble apartment they lived in. I ate the humble food they ate. And Dave told me a story about their neighborhood, the Latino gangs fighting for turf over it, the Cambodian gangs that had risen up to challenge some of it. He told me of his own conversion, and going from a commodities trader with a Porsche, and how he left it all to follow Jesus in ministry. I was spell bound and stayed that way as we walked around the neighborhood. Dave was a fixture, everyone said hello, stopped for a talk. His Cambodian was still pretty rusty but he tried to speak to people in their own language.
He gave me a book to read, and a few articles. The book was the making of a leader, by Robert Clinton, and the articles were about mentoring. I felt like he was asking me if I wanted him to mentor me. I had never seen mentoring this formalized, mentoring was just what happened at my church, but this seemed much more intentional. I called and made another appointment to visit Dave.
When I got there, he asked me if I had read the stuff he gave me, and I told him I had. He asked what I thought, and I answered, “I think you are inviting me into a mentoring relationship” and he confirmed that he was. I said, “yes, please”
That day I witnessed a number of drug deals, a kid pull a gun, a violent domestic dispute that ended with a man going to the hospital with a hole the exact size of the business end of a stiletto heel in his forehead. And through it all Dave was calm, and peaceful, and loving.
Over the next year Dave taught me a lot about “incarnational ministry” what it means to empower others, not work from above or outside of community but to get down in it with them. He taught me a lot about God’s heart for the poor and the marginalized. And he taught me how to be a good mentor. He changed my life and ministry more than he probably knows.
Now he lives in the slums of Cambodia. His three children who grew up there with him, are now going to college here in the states. And he is truly a modern day saint.