You’ve asked me if I have seen Salem or Ruth or Remus lately.
Yet I have.
I look for them when I’m in their neighborhood. But over 35,000 people live in the Tenderloin, a community just blocks from Union Square and upscale shopping, but where drugs, prostitution, sex trafficking, and homelessness abound.
I hear from Ruth from time to time via text. She reminds me to keep my eyes on Jesus and those texts always come at just the right time.
I have seen Salem, Ruth, and Remus in the faces of others I meet though. Yesterday, I was walking the underground station at Powell Street and my mind was ahead of my feet, wondering how many would be finding shelter from the rain. I counted three men. Two asleep. Another in his wheelchair reading the Bible. One of the men who was sleeping only let his feet be seen. My pace slowed down despite the fact I was late to pray at the church. In my slowing down, I wondered if I had a water bottle and a cloth, would I have woken him from his sleep to offer a foot bath? Would he have even wanted that? Feet have never bothered me. His were no different.
This neighbor of mine, tired from having to stay alert and vigilant in the dark hours of the night was getting rest in a well-lit station with only his feet to show for it. Oh to cover his feet with another blanket. Oh to offer a foot bath. I had neither. I offered neither. I let him sleep.
To the other side of the tunnel sat a gentleman with his book open. I did not interrupt him either. But he interrupted me. He had my attention. Did he have the attention of other commuters on their way to work, appointments, and business as usual? God has his attention as he consumed the words on the page. And that got me learning.
How did he see our sleeping neighbors? Were we all the same kind of different? Two resting. One reading. Me walking. Is it our circumstances that keep us from paying attention or is it our perspective or lack thereof?
I’m guilty of seeing the outside of humanity and then determining they are suffering, they are the least of these, they are the marginalized. So how do they see me? Clothed? Capable? Cared for?
I kept walking. This wasn’t a one time experience. This is my city. My neighbors. Our issue. Our community.
But I did stop last week.
And we learned names. And they learned ours. And we kept going because we’re learning together we are the same kind of different. Our story walked with us. It was obvious we were a family. Our neighbors in the Tenderloin could see a mom, a dad, and 4 kids. Their story lived with them. It was obvious they were sick. They were making a sale. They were high. They were scared.
Our family joined with others to hand out hot cocoa with YWAM who does this every single Friday night. We learned to pray with our eyes open and pray with authority. We practiced hospitality as we asked if we could be invited into their space on the cardboard box. We shared hot cocoa and they insisted we fill it up to the brim…minus a few who had other substances to add to the cup.
We met Compassion. He asked us to pray for his friends in the Tenderloin to be awakened to Christ. He is still teaching me that prayer today. May that be a prayer on all our tongues.
We met Courage coming out of his SRO (Single Resident Occupancy). His body shook. We asked if we could all put our hands on his shoulder. Jesus calmed us all as we prayed for safety and peace. He liked his cocoa to the brim.
We met Agape. She told us about her surgery this week. She kept active as the sales were taking place around her. She knew everyone around her and felt far more comfortable than we did. Agape stopped for a minute for us to pray for her surgery with our eyes wide open. Her smile was beautiful though her insides were not well. But Jesus can change all that, so we asked that He would.
We met Hope. I talked with her while Ben talked with Dream. Dream wanted so much to get out of the TL (Tenderloin). If she could get a place outside of the neighborhood, she would avoid the drugs. But she couldn’t and she hasn’t. She’s back on them and hates being a prisoner inside herself. How can Jesus be in the healing of Agape and in the unlocking of Dream? I don’t know, but on the streets with our neighbors, I was believing it with every ounce in me.
Hope had many marks on her face. We both know she didn’t put them there, but she knows all the people who have. One was close by with his eyes on her. She had a coffee in one hand and gladly took a cup of hot cocoa. As we shared our names, she wept over our family. She told our four kids that she’d do anything to see her own kids. She wants so much to be a family again. Her voice wavered as she led us all over the map of where she's been. Her brokenness jolted our adopted daughter’s brokenness. (that’s another story) The roller skates on her feet led me to an assumption. They were her chains. She was trapped and the pimp had control. We prayed out loud. We prayed for her kids and our kids. For her life and our life. We prayed for both because we’re in this together. It’s not just her story over here in the TL. As I put my arms around her, I whispered. “YWAM on Ellis Street. Go there. Get free.” My face brushed against the marks on her face. Her beauty touched my skin.
We met Day and Delight and Isaiah. And they met us. We are all the same kind of different. We all are trying to save ourselves and be in control and fight for our rights. Yet, we are all given the same rescue like no other. Jesus came for me, my family, and my friends in the TL. We just look different on the outside and that was never intended by Jesus to get in the way of learning from each other.
Here’s my story:
What I’m learning is my story. So I’ll take my story and give you what I’m learning! There are 800,000 of us in San Francisco. Over a million if you count all those who commute into the city for work, but don’t live here. I want to learn names and make friends and share hope and wake up and do it all over again.
It works best if we’re doing this together. I’m learning that the Church, the community, the collective can live in such a way where we give love and move forward. We give love because we are all worthy of love from one another. No one is exempt.
Love comes in all forms - a smile, a hello, an offering to buy lunch, an apology, an invitation, a hug, a helping hand. And love is from God and He intends for it to flow, not clog.
Moving forward is not going backwards. Clearly, Shauna. Clearly. It might be an agreement to not go to that place again. It might be a getting rid of something. It might be a designated time to gather. It might be accountability. It might be a routine text to a friend. My friends on the street know the whereabouts of their friends. They know who is against them. Moving forward is letting them know who is for them. Moving forward is making steps, not expecting leaps.
What are you learning? Who are you learning from?
For more information on YWAM, check out their website. If you’re local, I’m happy to go and serve with you. YWAM is all over the world!