“I was on my way to Quartzsite, and I was reading a book. I got to Slab City, and I never finished the book.”
What Rick did instead was to start the Haven, a drug- and alcohol-free place for people to hang out, grab a coffee, and often, to get help. It isn’t meant to be religious, but AA meetings happen once a week, and a small but sturdy group meets for Bible study every morning. Between the small Bible Study group and the Slab City Christian Center (All Welcome) next door, you have the spiritual core of a blighted place. You would be mistaken to underestimate this
“We have some very strong and studied spiritual people here,” said Dave, who leads the Bible study with Rick. He is one of those strong and studied.
“We prayed for a trailer for the Haven, and an hour and a half later, we had one,” said doe-eyed Novena, who arrived at the Slabs in the middle of the night with her Nissan pickup and her special-needs son after her house was foreclosed on. Now it is Novena who visits women who arrive at the Slabs in their cars.
Lorie represents the latest wave of fallout from the economic collapse. For the past three years, the Slabs has seen more people arriving on foot or bicycle. “They come with a tent, and they stay,” said Rick. “When you ask what happened, they say, ‘I lost my house,’ or just ‘economics.’ ”
(You can contact Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lorie had a good job, a nice house, and investments. It all evaporated with the financial crisis. Now, she views the experience from a different perspective. “When I lost everything, I gained everything,” she said, referring to her newfound faith. “It was all
dung.” Although she admits that sometimes she’d really like the dung back.
According to Dave, the Slabs removes the “background clutter.” “You have the desert and you have yourself. You can reassemble yourself.”
In a place like this life is stripped to its essentials, and in that distillate both good and evil operate in the raw light of day. “It’s like a battleground here,” said Laurie. “You can see it starkly.”
Next door at the Slab City Christian Center, Pastor Pat is cleaning out a storage area. He recently took up the care of this congregation from Pastor Phil, who served on weekends for the past 14 years. For the first time, Slab City will have a full-time minister who lives in the community he serves. Pat and his wife, Laura, aren’t just testing the waters. They didn’t leave the window open a crack. They sold their house near Joshua Tree and packed up their former life. “We don’t have an exit strategy,” he said.
Pat has the creds for the job. A Marine and Vietnam vet, “the war torqued my soul,” he said. After years of hard living that somehow never quieted the demons, he came to faith. His former ministry was among the Hell’s Angel-type biker crowd, so he’s accustomed to rough edges and unkempt lives.
Pastor Pat arrived a year ago, eager to begin, but scarcely three months into the job, he was diagnosed with cancer. He still has the pallor and fragility of one newly recovered, but he also has the dignity of the battle-scarred.
As Pat sees it, the Slabs is a fitting culmination to a lifetime of work in the trenches. “I want to finish my life doing ministry,” he said. The Slabs “looks like a dump,” but he envisions a spiritual epicenter shining with the light of God. “My vision is large because my God is large.”