“Thanks for listening. God bless you.” The man with long dreadlocks and dark skin stepped down from the stage. Mike, our youth pastor met him half way and shook his hand. He took his place at the podium.
“Wow, that’s amazing. What a fantastic ministry. Thank you Tim for coming all this way and sharing with us about the Rescue Mission.” He smiled at our guest and then looked at us.
“I think I’m going to take Tim up on his offer. I’m going to go to San Francisco and help with the rescue mission for a week.” He looked around the room. “Who’s with me?” The crickets squeaked. No response. “Okay, I challenge you. I dare you! I double dog dare you to come with me to the Tenderloin and help feed and clothe the homeless. I dare you!”
Terry’s hand shot up. She was my best friend and sat next to me. I couldn’t let her go alone. Without thinking, my hand went up. I looked over at my parents two pews away. They smiled. A kinda “I’m so proud of you” smile. I had only caught about half of the presentation and I really didn’t know what was happening. But Terry was going.
A month passed and I couldn’t talk my way out of it. I was a socialite, not a volunteer. That was my ministry. But I had committed to this trip to the Bay and my parents wouldn’t let me out of it.
The churches’ mini bus dropped us off at Union Square. Tim met us there and sent the bus on to the mission. “We’ll walk from here so you’ll have the opportunity to see first hand where we work.”
“I don’t think I’m cut out for this,” I said to myself. I looked around. It was nearly eight o’clock at night. Everybody else had questions for Tim. Union Square looked fine, but the surrounding streets were scary. The Saks Fifth Avenue sign glowing in the distance was the only inviting prospect.
We put Union Square and Saks behind us walking west on Geary Street. This was supposed to be exciting, but I was scared. I freely admit it. My knees were knocking. I had been to the city, mind you, but nothing like this. Just a few blocks, from Union Square, to Leavenworth, down to Turk Street, then east to the mission. After dark. What were we thinking?
It seemed to grow darker the further we traveled. Tim had been giving us some background on the area. A very densely populated area with over forty thousand people per square mile. Extreme poverty and high crime. Sounds like fun, I thought.
As we continued down Geary, I began to see the heavy poverty Tim spoke of. The fog had rolled in and with it came a chill. We wore jackets, so it really didn’t bother us. I saw that many along the streets had little or no protection from the weather. We began to see strange women walking around in skimpy clothing despite the cold. And some weren’t women.
Slowly, life on the streets became apparent to me. I passed people trying to find shelter in cardboard boxes and it all started to burn in my chest. I envisioned myself in their shoes. It just seemed to appear in my head. I started to cry, sniffling and trying to hide it. I was dressed in three hundred dollar jeans.
As we approached Leavenworth Street, Tim turned us toward the south. Waiting for the crosswalk light to change, I watched the corner market that was built into the bottom level of an apartment building opposite of us. A girl of maybe ten years old stood in front of the store, asking people coming in and out of the market for spare change. We were halfway across the street when the owner of the store came out cursing and run her off. I wanted to defend her. It made me angry. I wondered if anyone had ever fought for her. I glared at the owner as we passed the store.
“There are two truths in this city.” Tim said. “The truth of Christ and the truth of what’s happening out here on the street. Our job is to change the street truth with His truth.”
That first night, I caught a glimpse of what he meant. But I didn’t fully get it, so I’m going back again. I think my ministry may have changed too.
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