Jesus Burgers is a ministry that happens every Friday night in a city of 20,000 people in one square mile. It has been going on for over a decade now. This one of a kind city is called Isla Vista, located next to the University of California, Santa Barbara. Picture a street lined with house parties, booming music, and the smell of drugs and alcohol surrounding you as hundreds of people wander the street searching for the next fulfilling thing. This is where Jesus Burgers is situated, in the midst of those who are wandering and searching for love. Jesus Burgers is simple ministry that loves people through giving them a free hamburger, a place to rest, a bathroom to use, a prayer, a ride home, a glass of water, a friend, or whatever else they might need. We run this ministry through a house located at the epicenter of the main party street, which is consistently crowded with thousands of people partying on Friday and Saturday nights, making it inaccessible to cars.
One of the most influential things about Jesus’ earthly ministry was that He was simply touchable. God came to earth, took on an earth suit, and cruised around in it for 33 years. He didn’t just remain in Heaven, hoping we would understand who He is and what He is like. God actually came to dwell amongst the people He loved. John 1:14 in The Message bible says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus didn’t just visit the neighborhood from time to time, He actually moved into people’s lives, living with and amongst the people. Jesus Burgers has moved into the neighborhood of Isla Vista. Not only with a community house of 14 Jesus-lovin’ people in the middle of the darkest street in the city, but also through serving hamburgers to demonstrate this amazing love to our neighbors.
“A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.” (Proverb 18:16)
If we are going to reach our generation, we must be touchable for our generation. As much as I love church, we can’t hide in the comfort of the four walls, going from meeting to meeting. Hours before the cross, Jesus’ prayer was that the Father would not take us out of the world, but send us into the world (John 17:13-19). He sent us into the war zones of the earth with a mission to touch and love our generation. Faith develops at it’s best through experiencing real, raw life, not through obtaining more theories about life. As important as a sermon, podcast, or book may be in nourishing our faith, there are no substitutes that can stand in the gap for actually doing what we know. His blessing is always on the doer of the word, not the hearer of the word. Our faith and love was designed to function in the midst of where it is needed. Through experience, I have found our faith grows best when we are giving our lives away to others, which can be as simple as giving away a hamburger or offering a ride home from a party.
We never want to underestimate the power of being present for others. In my life, it took eight months of being around other believers who loved me and allowed me in to their lives before my heart softened toward Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 13, the first description of love is that it is patient. Through being involved with Jesus Burgers, I have learned that we have to be willing to join the journey that people are on if we truly want to see them enter into the Kingdom. We cannot just expect them to come to church, hoping that they will find Jesus; we must be willing to be the church to them and show them Jesus.
Over the years, I have witnessed countless testimonies of lives loved, transformed, healed, and encountered by God. One testimony that particularly touched me several years ago was of a guy named Mike who grew up as a Christian, and, like many before him, walked away from the Lord in college. One night at Jesus Burgers, I strongly felt the love of God for Mike, even though I had never met him. Instead of thinking about what I should do, I just walked up to him while he was waiting in line for a Jesus Burger and introduced myself. Mike reminded me of the many in our generation who believed in God, yet the life of God had been choked out through the desire for other things. I ended up getting Mike’s number that night and met up the following week at his house to talk more about God and life. When I walked into his apartment there was a stripper pole planted in the middle of the room and posters plastered on the walls that were complementary to the pole’s existence. We looked at the Bible (not the posters) that day and from then on started meeting at the park weekly to talk about Jesus and life for the next year. I ended up baptizing Mike in his Corona shorts several months after meeting him and we still have a relationship today.
Mike’s testimony has always served as a reminder to me that people are in need of a bridge. They need the church to make a bridge into the Kingdom and their life. We can’t expect people to be transformed by God until we are willing to share our lives and time with them. Jesus Burgers has made an incredible impact on the city of Isla Vista through a simple yet powerful message of love. A love that is willing to meet people where they are – not where the church wishes they would be. With this authentic love, we become touchable to the people around us and they can understand and see what Jesus’ life and love was all about. And once they see Him, they are forever changed.