Stepping off the plane and into the San Francisco airport, we expected impending difficult situations, but nothing of the reality of the situation in the tenderloin. We complained under our breath about paying $15 for a quesadilla in the airport, and even though this was not convenient, none of us had to worry about being able to afford to put food in our mouths like the majority of the people we met that weekend.
We come from a place where the extent of the homeless people we see driving around the city is around 15 max. There is occasional man or woman holding a sign on the side of the road begging by the street light at Target, and maybe our heart is softened toward them and we pull over and offer them a sandwich or a couple of bucks. When stepping off the shuttle from the airport, every single one of us immediately realized that this was a whole different realm from what we were used to. The people holding signs on the corner of the street were replaced with makeshift tents lining every street in the Tenderloin, exposed needles on the side walk, torn up clothes, and even hidden brothels. A few men and women were sleeping in front of the building we were meant to be staying in surrounded by what looked like trash to us, but in reality, it was just their belongings. The girls from YWAM found our initial shock comical because they felt safe surrounded by their regular friends in front of their door on the street, while we found it sketchy and maybe even terrifying. We thought we knew what to expect, but this was a whole new domain of outreach that we were only scratching the surface of on that night on the street.
Initial thoughts plagued our minds; “What have we gotten ourselves into?” “I don’t want to be here,” “I am better than these people,” “I am different and cannot reach them,” “this is too much for me and this city is beyond repair.” But these were torn down as the weekend moved on.
We were given the chance to walk through the diverse streets of the Tenderloin on a two different prayer walks. The first one, we got to see the city for the first time in the daylight and it revealed that no street was the same from the other. Our hearts sank at the sight of how broken this place was with such easy access to awful instant gratification. It is hard to put into words just how intense the brokenness of the situation was. Initially, it is easy to believe that these people somehow made a choice that put them in this position. They must be bad people, they must have chosen to sell their bodies, to become addicted to drugs, to live on the streets.
YWAM offers a free lunch to those in the community and we were able to help serve and participate in it. Through this we were given the chance to sit and share a meal with those who were living in the community around the Tenderloin. This was a pivotal moment for all of us as we got to share in honest and candid conversation with some of those in need and learn a little bit of their stories. Some of the boys met a man named Mike who shared with them his love for hunting and the outdoors. He suffered in a horrible accident from which he survived, but with severe burns all over his body, which led him to his circumstances on the street. Some of the girls met an elderly woman named Uncle that shared endlessly about her children and their success stories. They graduated from Berkley and UCLA with degrees in engineering. These conversations marked an important turning point in the trip where we knocked down to the same level as the people we were sharing a meal with. We were all just people with a story to share and this is the place where our stories began to intercept.
Scott read to us the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and asked us an important question: who do we identify as in this story? Most of us answered either the priest or Levite because coming into this experience we all felt like we would cross the street at the sight of someone in need, turning a blind eye to the discomfort of seeing the homeless. Then Scott asked us another important question, why did none of us identify with the man who was robbed, stripped down, beaten, and left for dead?
Every single one of us can identify with feeling beat down and left for dead, that is what we are without the Lord. Without God we deserve nothing and sometimes that is a hard pill to swallow. We are all equally undeserving and sinful and as Christians we are called to die, not to live. When we put down the shameful words towards ourselves and talk about the hurt that’s really going on like loneliness, doubt, grief, and anxiety, we realize that we are all in the ditch like the man from The Good Samaritan story. Talking with the homeless and those in need over the course of the weekend through serving dinner at The Glide, serving lunch at YWAM, both of our prayer walks, and serving hot chocolates in the cold night on the street, we were taken off our pedestal and saw that we are our neighbor.
The majority of the people on the street did not choose to be there, but instead were thrown into their own ditch. Part of their ditch is just more visible than ours. The boys even met a man named Muhammad who murmuring he was a good man under his breath and asked for prayer to break free from his drug addictions. This isn’t what they want. From this experience, not only did all of us gain a kingdom perspective, but we were put in a place where Jesus met us in the heart of the interception of our stories and those we met. We all saw the Holy Spirit move in such special and unique ways. Although it was beyond overwhelming at times, seeing the severe brokenness in one place and being led to question how the Lord would fix this and even if He would, by the end of the trip the Lord revealed himself through several incredible “God Sightings” that we got to share with one another and now share with others outside of the trip.
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