On Wednesday evenings, my friend Bill and I go to Tel Aviv to teach at the Sudanese church, which is located near the central bus station in south Tel Aviv. This an area that is heavily populated by foreigners - some legal, some illegal.
One Israeli described the demographics like this: "It's so crowded with foreigners that it's hard to find an actual Israeli there. And if you do, they are simply passing through going to or from the bus station." His observations are pretty accurate. After our meeting with the Sudanese men, we generally get a bite to eat at the nearby pedestrian mall. Besides eating, we also wander around trying to strike up conversations with whomever we can; but mostly we are observing, trying to figure out how things work in this island of foreign workers.
Not only is this the foreign workers' stomping ground, it is also an area with homeless people who have found themselves on the streets due to drug abuse or mental illness. I'm sure there may be some other reasons, but those seem to be the most prominent.
The homeless guys in the photo above, are sleeping in the shooting gallery. That's where heroin addicts hide in the shadows and inject themselves (see the video below). The place is littered with filth, all the things associated with homeless drug addicts: human waste, trash, treasures collected from dumpsters, rats, empty lighters, spoons, and old needles and syringes.
At times it's overwhelming to see the collection of misery that has settled in that area. And, I'm talking about the majority of those in the area, not just the heroin addicts sleeping in their own waste. My heart aches both for the addicts and for those who have made their way to Tel Aviv - however they did that - to work one level above slave conditions (worse in some cases) in an effort to send some money back home, or to seek a better life for themselves.
What's astounding is the emptiness and collective hopelessness that permeates the area. Pubs of one ethnic variety or another are the gathering places, the anesthesia that dulls the emptiness that is life for so many of these wanderers.
In contrast to this painful scene, are the men who meet us to study God's word at the Sudanese church a couple streets over. They, too, have tales of hardship to tell, but they aren't empty or hopeless. The difference? It isn't in the hardship of their lives verses the hardship of those we painfully observe on the walkway each week, because their lives are equally challenging. The real difference is the hope of the gospel.
I'm encouraged every Wednesday night to sit with these men and see a real example of the hope and contentment the gospel offers; to see the effects of believing in the supremacy of Christ over all other suitors.
Here's a video of two guys shooting heroin in the shooting gallery last night.
UPDATE: Here's the same video with brightness and contrast adjustments: