The Divine Burgers of Del Playa
Amanda begins, "It was Friday night, but the weekend had already set in a day earlier. Still, the prospect of another aimless adventure in the lawless corner of Isla Vista was enough to leave me hungering for more. Word on the street was that Jesus Burgers was the go to place for a late night fix. Sure, there was a chance that you may have to tolerate a few bible worshiping know-it-alls but it was worth it, right?
I wasn’t totally sold on the idea but my roommate, who, God bless her soul, LOVES food, had already factored this stop into our game plane for the night. Several strong drinks later I found myself waiting, rather contently, in a line that seemed to stretch forever. Still, I didn’t mind slowing down for a minute because (surprisingly) there was no cutting in line, no steroid-induced fist fights, and, for the first time all night, I had plenty of room to breath. The intoxicating smell of fresh ground beef assured me that this was right where I wanted to be. And I could tell that the smiling faces of those serving me felt the same. Gosh, I thought. This is easier than I predicted. I don’t have to engage in a theological debate to enjoy the welcome occasion of a home-cooked meal? Well if that’s the case, I'll be back next week, and Ill bring my friends with me."
By my calculations, (neither accurate nor dependable, dear reader, but included here to imply my tender consciousness is, like so many others, bound by time) this fateful evening took place in the autumn of 2005. Amanda was living in Tropicana Gardens. (If you've never paused to wonder why otherwise well-intentioned parents willingly drop their prized young pupils into a veritable lion's den of alcoholic bliss and debauchery, may I offer this perhaps obvious explanation: the dorm in which, for the next several years they'll be crawling home to on learned hands and knees and enduring hangovers of Joplinesque proportions, is named after orange juice, America's most enduring symbol of health and tranquility.) This would have placed Amanda at 6686 Del Playa, the spiritual home of Jesus Burgers, mere weeks after I had gone. But we would meet again.
Before there was ever a Jesus Burger, there was a college bible study called Reality that wanted to reach the youth from UCSB. (Note to self: You're doing good so far. Almost like a REAL historian, and also so brave. But seriously, you don't remember anything about Jesus Burgers. Why don't you act like a REAL college student, and see what Wikipedia has to say.)
The page "Jesus burgers" does not exist. You can ask for it to be created, but consider checking . . .
Bogus! Nothing on Jesus Burgers on Wikipedia? We'll see about that. I'll just Google it. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, but right now I'm only interested in why a group of otherwise broke Christians are giving away free food. Here we go. The first listing goes to IV Church.
“Jesus Burgers” is a ministry that started in 2001 when college-aged believers were bold enough to put on a worship night in Isla Vista’s Anaisq ‘Oyo Park. They served free burgers, mostly to the homeless, and began to push back the darkness in the community through on-site service, love and devoted prayer.
That's right. Who's working around here? Someone needs to port this into Wikipedia. I do remember the love and devoted prayer—that was the part I was, at one point, blessed to arrange. Imagine for a moment the mental state of the average young adult visitor at 11 p.m. on a Friday night, Pacific Standard Time. The weekend would have begun for them, most of them anyway, twenty-four hours before, on Thursday evening—the weekend's spiritual birth.
Now imagine the mental state for those of us called to serve. Our party began, on most nights, several hours before, in a small surf shed a mere seventy-five feet off the main drag. In addition to offering protection from the wind and rain, it had become for us a well-worn house of prayer. I say well-worn purposely—not to speak of any effort put forth on our part, but rather to reference the savage, unpredictable, unmistakably beautiful presence of God in which we were frequently bathed. Why the Lord came to visit us, and why He stayed, it's hard to say. I will say structure was (and is) not important. Looking back now, it's hard to imagine a time that I felt more loved. But who am I to say, simple man that I am? I only know that God was there, that we, as a family, felt loved in a miraculous, electrifying way, and that the goodness of our Father was (apparently) apparent to those we'd later see, and later serve.
I've never been much of an evangelist, but that hardly mattered. We were loved, as I keep saying, and each of us naturally fell into his or her respective role. For a few of us (hardy souls they were) that meant manning the grill. But let's get back to Amanda. What she wouldn't have known at that time, dreaming of the future and enjoying the glistening Santa Barbara sun, is that another young women, Erika El-Ansari, was also at Tropicana Gardens, serving as the Assistant Director of Student Life.
"I first met Erika when, like many other freshman girls, I encountered roommate trouble. With as much exposure as I had to rebellion and the random acts of undirected youth, my first college roommate had new lessons in store. She was already enjoying her fifteen-minutes-of-fame on a hit reality MTV show, and I sensed she was accustomed to being center stage. On move-in day she took to rolling a joint in our bathroom, in plain view of my already-suspicious mother, no less. This was very likely not going to work. After a week of tiptoeing around her need to RAGE twenty-four-seven, I sat down with Erika to discuss my options.
Within minutes, her kindness turned my defensive shell into a puddle of tears and for a few minutes she hugged me with a familiarity that reminded me of home. That wouldn’t be the last time we found ourselves together, finding a way forward.
Months later, with a new roommate in tow, I was well accustomed to dorm life. There were important rules that were not to be broken: no jumping in the pool from the second story balcony, no sneaking into the kitchen for a midnight snack after closing hours, and absolutely no candles. There were others of course (that we chose to ignore), one being a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol. This was unfortunate, because under-age drinking was what did I best. To prove it my household I had constructed an eight-foot beer pong table that had, upon it's saturated top, a colorful mural of our previous outings. Upon this table were held countless tournaments; weekly testaments to noteworthy that the staff at Tropicana was forced to attend to our beloved treasure, and without hesitation they asked us to dispose of it.
My personal punishment for housing this paraphernalia was to meet with Erika and discuss my propensity for testing boundaries. Even under these less-than-ideal circumstances, she me met with the same enthusiasm as before, and within minutes had be sharing more than I had planned. There were going to be consequences, she explained, but beyond that she wanted me to know that I was a welcomed member of the community, and as such, I was cared for. What I couldn't have known at that time is that Erika had been paying attention to me for a whole different set of reasons, and praying regularly for me—in fact, each time she passed my door. Years later, when, by chance our paths crossed again, it became clear that own path to Christ was in many ways (how many ways we'll never know) an answer to her prayers.
She admitted to participating in intense spiritual preparation before each freshman class stepped foot into Tropicana. She, and others, had anointed the door handles of each room, and prayed over each new semester's roster of names. With such a transient population, I feel I have a rare privilege in seeing the fruit of her work. But there it was, evident in me.
The intimate friendship that we now share began long ago, when she loved me with an unconditional love. I am often thankful for her, and grateful that she can now see the before and after—the glory in which I now reside and the place where I was delivered from."
So who is this Amanda? In short, one of my dearest friends. To say that we're all children of God is not to say that we act that way, but Amanda Rose O'Hara unfailingly tells the story of her Father's love from one day to the next. She tells it to the homeless, the transgender population, the patients with AIDS that she works with in San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin district. She has told it to an orphanage full of parentless children living on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was apparent the first time I met her, and it shines ever brighter as the days roll past.
I include her story here, instead of my own, for the simple reason that she saw our community from the outside. Anyone who knows me knows I prefer an outsider's opinion; at one time it was my own. It has a certain validity that can't be prearranged, unless of course you love someone from before the time they were born—unless that opinion began to be shaped for them within their mother's womb. I would call that a permissible arrangement, some might call it destiny.
I also include it because Amanda's simple and unguarded relationship with her heavenly Father continues to display for me His infinite and unbroken kindness. She has taught me He can only love. It has a purity which I rarely see, and an appreciation that can only be found in someone who knows what it's like to have the murderous deceiver so close outside your door. Of her coming to Christ, she once told me, "It felt like God reached inside my chest and held my heart in His hands and said, 'I made this. I made you. And it's time to come home.'"