Experiencing God - How He Changed My Life in One Week
How do I start a post that is meant to describe the unbelievable way God shook my world during my week of serving the homeless, poor, and oppressed in the Tenderloin of San Francisco? Words really do fail me and I'm frustrated that I'm not able to paint with words the kind of picture that will forever be etched into my mind. When our group returned on Saturday night, we knew we would be faced with the question, "How was your trip," and that it wasn't something we were going to be able to answer with one word or sentence. Many of us hadn't really processed all we'd learned and been through and maybe still are. But, I want to share the story of my experience and all that God taught me. I know that there's so much I won't be able to fit into a blog post. But, I'll do my best and start at the beginning...
It all started with the discipleship class Jeff and I took at our church last spring entitled "Experiencing God." This class taught us so much about the work God is doing all around us and that we are all invited to join Him. For a while now, I've felt like I'm kind of in a rut in my walk with Christ because I spend so much of my time as a stay at home mom in my little Christian bubble here in College Station. Don't get me wrong - I love my bubble. I have awesome friends and church family, am blessed to stay home to raise my children, use a Christian homeschool curriculum and group to teach Ansley, take my daughters to a Christian dance studio... The problem is that I became convicted that I was too comfortable. That's not what this life is about. Yes, they are sweet blessings from God, but He said that we are not to become so comfortable that we just blend in. As believers and followers of Christ we are called to go and make disciples, to share the beautiful news of what Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection mean for us. Jeff and I were rocked to the core during this class. He signed up to go on his first ever mission trip to SE Asia and I signed up for San Francisco. Right before the trip I began doubting whether or not God could really use me on this trip and I began reading through Romans to prepare. The verse in all of Romans that spoke to me the most was Romans 10:14-15, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'" Through this verse, God encouraged me so much.
God brought together an incredible group of 17 people from two churches (ours and our sister church). We didn't all know each other and spent the car ride to the airport getting to know each other better and telling our testimonies. By the end of the trip we were all so close that they feel like brothers and sisters to me. We left Monday morning, August 23, and arrived in San Fran later that afternoon. We rode the BART (kind of like a subway) a beautiful part of downtown area full of gorgeous architecture, expensive stores, and lots of tourists. We would be working with City Impact (more about that later) and the main building we were staying in was only a few blocks away. As we walked toward the Tenderloin (TL) the scenery immediately changed. The streets and sidewalks were filthy, everything smelled, people littered the sidewalks. Immediately I was out of my comfort zone.
City Impact is a ministry that serves the poor and homeless in the TL. The TL is one square mile in downtown San Francisco where 37,000 people live. There are many homeless and also some who live in SRO (single room occupancy) buildings that are government run. There is crime, drugs, gang activity, violence, prostitution. A lot of in your face sin. City Impact (CI) has several buildings in the TL, including the main building we stayed in that also has classrooms, the Rescue Mission, the Thrift Store, a school, and a new building on Taylor Street (I don't think I'll ever forget that particular street). God is working to do some pretty amazing stuff through CI and their service to the community. They are able to meet needs, be a light in the very dark area, and most importantly share hope with the people of the TL by telling them about Jesus.
In order to not make this post too long, I'll just give some highlights of the trip and I'd love to talk more one on one with anyone who has questions. After arriving on Monday, we went on a prayer walk around the TL, stopping at the sex club just right next door to pray, and then the other CI buildings. Our leader, Ashley, took us just a few blocks up the street and we stepped into Union Square, a beautiful, expensive, and very touristy area. We could not believe that this was all just outside the TL. On Tuesday, I worked in the Rescue Mission serving coffee and pastries to the homeless in the morning. The Rescue Mission was my favorite place to serve because I loved showing the people there respect and kindness in serving them and getting to have some really neat conversations. That afternoon I went on meal deliveries, where we were given boxed salads and sandwiches, split into boy/girl couples, and sent to an SRO to knock on doors and offer free food, prayer, and the gospel. I was very eye opening to see how the people lived in these buildings and I became very thankful of the luxuries I have very quickly. There were some pretty great conversations and prayers during this time and it was something I really enjoyed. After dinner, our team went to do street evangelism and were given small bags of chips to offer people we saw on the street. We then tried to engage them in conversations, pray with them, and talk to them about Jesus. Wednesday I served in the Thrift Store and met some great people, one of which I learned was a new believer of only two months and I was able to give her my Bible. That was a huge blessing to me.
Thursday. This day will forever stick out in my mind because our group witnessed spiritual warfare like I never have before and probably never will again. That night we went to do street evangelism as we had Tuesday night. Because Tuesday night went so well and wasn't as terrifying as I'd imagined it would be, and because by this point in the trip I was feeling a lot more comfortable with approaching people on the street, I wasn't nearly as nervous as I was on Tuesday. I joked with the team that TL Mallory was so much different than the stay at home mom I left behind in College Station. As soon as we stepped foot onto the sidewalk, we were met with anger. One man in particular ripped the box of chips out of my friend's arms, threw it in the street, and started running around and yelling. A group on the corner yelled obscenities at us, called us names, screamed that we were going to hell in our faces. We finally made it through the crowd and decided to go around the block and back into the building to pray. Our leader decided we were going back out, but this time to the police station since it was safer and we would let people come to us. While standing on the corner at the police station and talking to two detectives, we were told to get across the street and away from the station because a group protesting the Ferguson, Missouri happenings was marching toward us. We were able to get across and stand near our building to watch the march go by. It was heart breaking watching the police escort this angry group that was yelling at them and looked to be on the verge of violence. Just after they passed, a friend and I had the opportunity to speak to a Muslim man that was crossing the street. We spoke for about 10 minutes about who Jesus was and what the Bible says about him. It was a respectful conversation, but definitely the first time I've ever been able to share the Truth with a Muslim. All of this happened within the span of a couple of hours. Needless to say, by the time we all met inside our building to debrief and pray, we were exhausted and overwhelmed, but so thankful for the opportunities the Lord had given us to share with people and that He kept us safe.
On Friday morning we each served CI for the last time. I got to spend the morning vacuuming and cleaning the carpet of a classroom, which was actually a restful and easy time after the hard work of the days prior. In the afternoon we all took a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, where we saw the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge. After the time spent in the TL, I think our appreciation of the beauty of it all was heightened. We had so much fun exploring the pier and sightseeing.
My life was totally changed in the week that I spend in the TL serving the homeless. I learned not to judge and stereotype because I saw the stronghold the devil and addiction have on so many of those people. I learned to love despite the blatant and ugly sin that surrounded us. I learned about showing respect and giving dignity to the people who live much different lives than mine. I learned that no matter the exterior, these are all people with a soul. Jesus died for them, too. I saw so much heartache, despair, and hopelessness, but was given a tremendous gift in being able to share the love and hope of Christ. Even though darkness is present there, God has placed City Impact right in the middle to be a bright light. I know souls are being saved and God will continue to do mighty work in the TL. And, I've brought what I learned home with me, so I pray that the fire God ignited in my heart for those who don't know Him will not die, but push me to do His work here.