From the DTES – Lojas

Have you ever felt like you were in the presence of a fallen genius?

When I was going over my book the other day*, I realized that of all the stories I’d included about people I’d encountered on the Downtown East Side, I had left out the part about Lojas.

He pronounced it like the Spanish “Luis”, although he was from one of the Eastern European countries — Hungary, would be my best guess. I first became aware of him at Rainbow Mission. Neatly dressed, in a brown jacket and usually with a brown cap (I can’t remember him without the cap, in fact, so I have no idea if he was bald, or what), he stood up at one service and read from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,

Because the Lord has anointed Me

To preach good tidings to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives,

And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,

And the day of vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn,

To console those who mourn in Zion,

To give them beauty for Ashes,

The oil of joy for mourning,

THe garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

That they may be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

— Isaiah 61:1-3

And he sat down. Pastor Bob Brown was leading the service. He thanked him; there was a bit of a pause, to see if anyone else wanted to share anything, and then we went on.

Another day, he asked me if he could put on a puppet show at one of the services. “I want to explain the Bible to people, using puppets.”

“Go for it,” I said.

The show was about Adam and Eve in the Garden. The “puppets” consisted of pieces of cardboard, each stapled to a stick, with “ADAM”, “EVE” and “SNAKE” printed neatly in felt marker. Using the pulpit/lectern as a stage, Lojas moved the puppets around, giving Eve a cracked falsetto, Adam a deep voice, and the Snake appropriate hissing noises interspersed with his lines.

With the story told, Adam and Eve banished, the snake cursed, the puppets all took bows and a few people clapped when they realized it was over, and I couldn’t help thinking that here was someone who sincerely wanted to share the Gospel, and was grasping for different ways to get people’s attention.

Over the next few years, Lojas would pop up at services — both at Rainbow and at Gospel Mission. A very quiet loner, whom I would also see walking the streets on the DTES, perhaps praying quietly, perhaps lost in his own thoughts.

He asked for prayer for healing after one service, telling me he had cancer. I kept seeing him long after that: considerably thinner, but still up and about, so I have no idea if he had been cured or the cancer had gone into remission.

It was after that prayer, that he came into the office after a Saturday night service at Gospel Mission.

“I want to talk to you about an idea for a game,” he said, “and maybe you can help get it out there.”

“What’s the game?” I asked.

“It’s called ‘Gospel Chess’.”

“‘Gospel Chess.'”

“Yes. Do you play chess?”

“Badly.”

“But you know how it works.” He pulled out a piece of paper with some diagrams drawn on it. “See, in chess, the idea is to kill as many of your opponents as you can and prevent the king from escaping. But in ‘Gospel Chess’, the idea is not to kill your opponents but to use your moves to gather them in. The Gospel is all about bringing people together under Jesus, so this game helps you to do that.”

I tried to digest that. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I heard a line from a long-forgotten movie: “It’s a crazy, stupid, impossible idea … AND IT JUST MIGHT WORK!”

I had to bury that thought, because Lojas was deadly serious — remember that bit about him grasping for new ways to spread the Gospel to people? That was the case here. I replaced the movie line with the realization that here was a genius, who somehow wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

“Can you help me get it out there? No one else is interested.”

“Let me give it some thought.” I looked harder at the diagram. “But how …?” I started to ask.

“You can’t see it either!” he snapped. “No one can see it! It’s right there! You don’t make moves to beat your opponent, you make moves to bring everyone together. It’s not about you winning or them winning, it’s about everyone winning!”

He turned on his heel and left. I can’t remember talking to him after that: he probably had me clocked as one of those people who were out to discourage him and prevent him from reaching others with the Gospel; but in worldly terms, I knew no one in the game industry and if I couldn’t grasp how ‘Gospel Chess’ worked, how could I explain it to them?

Lojas never opened up to me, so I have no idea how he wound up on the Downtown East Side, wandering lonely through life and believing that the rest of the world Just Didn’t Understand — and hence, Just Didn’t Accept — him.

What I do know is that here is another illustration, that we can’t paint everyone in a Skid Row area with the same brush. They’ve come from well-to-do families, successful businesses that went wrong, a lifetime of “survivor’s remorse” from being the only one to live through a car crash that killed the rest of their family; a momentary lapse when someone said, “here – just try this”; a decision that their life was going nowhere on the Rez, so they’d head for the city …

At the end of the day, as the Lord told me that night on Granville Mall in 2004, what they need isn’t money or programs or a “safe place to shoot up”: they need Hope and they need Jesus; and they need us to tell them about Him.


*God At Work – A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty is available through Smashwords (just click on the link) or at any online bookseller like Chapters/Indigo or Barnes and Noble.