(February 11, 2001)
Lavonne Savage was making $2,000 a day, but she was broke. Virtually
every dollar went for drugs and alcohol until this prostitute gave
her life to Christ. She says, "I was about 15 when I started
selling myself." Now a minister, Savage is pioneering a church
among box-dwelling homeless people in Los Angeles.
Five years ago, a drug dealer deposited Savage at a Teen Challenge
center. This hardened profiteer, who sold crack to Savage and condoned
her prostitution, forced her into treatment. He told her, "I
know something that can help you get off drugs."
"My dealer wanted me to get off drugs, so I could get back on
the streets and make more money," Savage says. "What he
didnt know was that I would get saved."
Savage had tried eight drug-treatment programs. One day someone spewed
a hateful threat at her: "Youre going to be like this forever."
Savage, summoning every ounce of courage, replied, "You know
what? God is not going to leave me like this."
And He didnt.
Violent withdrawal symptoms rack the bodies of some recovering addicts,
but Savage slept her way through detoxification at Teen Challenge.
When dark images invaded her sleep, the Holy Spirit intervened.
"Id go to sleep at night and have drug dreams," she
says. "Then I would experience encounters where God would come
in the dream and fight the enemy for me."
God healed Savage of addictions and used a drama troupe to bring
her back to Him. "I had been saved when I was a little girl,"
she says, "but I rededicated my life to Him at that drama. I
still have my dedication card from when I gave my life back to Christ.
I look at it every day."
Soon Savage started telling L.A.s homeless about Jesus. She
and fellow Teen Challenge residents knocked on cardboard boxes where
the homeless people stay on Skid Row. "They wouldnt come
out to talk because they didnt know me," she says. "So
Id climb in and try to talk to them."
That was three years ago. Now the homeless know Savage well because
she lives among them. Womens Ministries groups helped her obtain
an apartment with modest furnishings and basic necessities.
"Talk about being thrilled to live on Skid Row," says Savages
mentor, Judy Rachels, Womens Ministries director for the Southern
California District of the Assemblies of God. Rachels salutes the
former addicts willingness to not only reach the street people,
but also keep churches informed. "We have 18 sectional meetings
where missionaries speak for about five minutes. Lavonne spoke at
every one of those meetings."
Savage relishes her circle of mentors such as Rachels, several pastors
wives and women ministers. They are godly role models who not only
inspire and encourage, but also energize her.
"Most women dont really understand what its like
down here where people live in boxes," Savage says. "But
Womens Ministries members understand that these homeless people
need love, so they pour love into me, and I pour it into these people."
She takes one box-dweller with her to speaking engagements. Although
Sue* doesnt literally travel with her, Savages compassion
for her and the other homeless people is evident when she preaches.
Weaving compassion with tact, Savage creates a portrait of Sue: "Sue
hasnt washed her hair in several years. Her skin is worn from
the drugs and the weather, and her teeth are yellow. She sleeps in
a box. In the morning she folds up her box and walks around all day.
Rumor has it that some of these homeless women are raped eight or
nine times daily. Sue looks bad and that protects her. Men wont
Before Savage started kindergarten, two men began molesting her.
She entered adolescence with wounded self-esteem and a dysfunctional
understanding of sexuality. She became promiscuous and by age 15 had
become a prostitute. When Savage was in her twenties, she began to
see a link between being molested in childhood and the bad choices
she made. She became angry.
Savage says that, after she rededicated her life to Christ, she had
no trouble forgiving the men who abused her, but struggled to forgive
herself. The Holy Spirit and friends have helped her work through
Violence is part of daily life on Skid Row. Savage estimates that
as many as 500 homeless live in her neighborhood. Shootings occur
several times a week.
"I am safe because Ive been coming here a lot," Savage
says. "The Lord gives me wisdom when to move out of the way.
I dont go out by myself at night, and the complex I stay in
has 24-hour security."
God is also using the people of the street to protect her.
"Some guys who sit next to the pornographic theater next door
to our church wont let anybody touch my car," she says.
If anyone approaches the pastor, these new friends intervene. "They
respect me; they dont curse around me; they put away their drugs,
and we talk. They havent been inside the church yet, but now
theyre starting to stand outside the door to listen to me preach."
Henry Perez, pastor of Bible Assembly of God in nearby South Gate,
has witnessed Savages people skills. He describes his church
as the "mother church for Lavonnes ministry." And,
he says, Savage is a "godly woman, very determined and really
good with people." His church sends two volunteers to help deliver
food and the Word weekly.
Savage is now senior pastor of the one-year-old Harvest of Hope Assembly
of God. She will be ordained after she completes correspondence classes
through Global University.
Savage juggles college classes with her churchs services, childrens
ministry, outreach events, neighborhood canvassing and speaking engagements.
She feeds the homeless and provides basic necessities such as toothbrushes
and combs, while building relationships with them.
"I want to have an opportunity to disciple them. You know how
thats going to be done? Through relationships."
*Name has been changed.