Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weekend Update 2

Weekend Update 2
This was a great weekend. I would relive this weekend again anytime.
I left for San Francisco on Friday afternoon with some other students to help out at a church and participate in its outreach programs.
It was a great ride down. I heard from a friend in Seattle, played Angry Birds, and had great conversations with the people in my car. We talked about life, relationships and, my favorite subject, the city. Among other things. We were heading to Outpost Church on 6th and Natoma, but while I wasn't paying attention, we ended up somewhere around City Hall. After some rerouting and crazy U-turns, we found this little building in the 6th Street Corridor. 
This place was nothing like I was expecting. I hadn't really expected anything in particular, but I had pictured a sterile building and dorm rooms or something equally un-SoMaish. Instead, I was met by graffiti, basketball courts and mismatched furniture. And kids all over! Adorable little guys running around and all the girls were playing school. Like, very seriously playing school. There were two teachers, a tutor and a class sitting quietly and working diligently. So cute!
We went straight to hanging out with these guys and getting to know them. Most lived in SOR hotels in the district and spent much of their afternoons in after-school programs. This program at the church is available to all the kids in the neighborhood, all that's required is a permission slip from the parents. They feed the kids 5 nights a week and keep them occupied until 6:00. Crazy. Impressively crazy.
I offered to help with dinner, which was spaghetti, meatballs and veggies, and learned more about the programs provided at Outpost. These programs are collectively called Crossroads and the kids who attend may or may not come to the weekend church service. Crossroads is funded by generosity- no federal money, no grants. Sometimes they worry about where the money for the bills is going to come from, but I was told it always comes. The workers at Crossroads pick up food from the local food closet, the building renovations are done by a church in Santa Cruz and the pastors of Outpost are missionaries and they don't take a salary. Wow. The church doesn't own the building used as a meeting place, Crossroads' youth center, missionary housing, etc. It's rented. On a month to month lease. The landlord won't offer a longterm contract of any kind.
Talk about relying on the Lord. For everything.
As we were serving dinner and convincing the kids to eat their vegetables, I couldn't help but notice how well the two paid staff members knew the thirty-plus kids present. They knew who was allergic to what, who would try to "give away" the veggies, who would want seconds…They sat and ate with the kids. They talked to them about life. They invested in all of them personally and then passed out cookies to whoever had at least attempted to finish the carrots, peas and lima beans on their plates.
How awesome is that? I can't imagine how much it must mean to these children to have someone to really emulate God's love every day. The city's a rough place, especially that area. There aren't a lot of kids in San Francisco, but most of them live in poor neighborhoods. Neighborhoods revenged by crime and violence and bad statistics.
As the kids were leaving, the teens started coming in. They spent a lot of the evening playing basketball, talking about the weekend and texting. We had dinner with them, too. Dinner for fifty odd kids five nights a week? I'm still wrapping my brain around it. The teens were all about having fun and they were all very active. Basketball turned into horse and some of the boys pulled out a wrestling mat. I was a sicky and wimped out and helped clean the kitchen. The teenagers left around 9 and we were all exhausted! We had a brief chat with the staff about the schedule for the next day and what the neighborhood was like and what to expect when interacting with people over the weekend. Then, we crashed.
Like most nights in the city, it was loud. Sirens and yelling and music…but our rooms were in the building's basement, so it was easier to tune out the noise. I didn't sleep much with my cold and a low grade fever and worrying. Ya, I'm a worrier. I'll explain more later.
The next day, I took some people to coffee at Blue Bottle Cafe in Mint Plaza, a five minute walk from Outpost http://www.bluebottlecoffee.net/locations/mint-cafe/. Had a Gibraltar, it was wonderful. One of the guys made an amazing breakfast for all of us and we talked over the day's schedule afterwards. We headed to City Team, a recovery facility for those suffering from addiction and participated in the most touching graduation ceremony I've ever been to. It was beautiful to listen to the stories of redemption and reconciliation. I was impressed by the courage displayed by the graduates and the dedication shown by the Team's staff. They offer housing, career counseling, and faith based programs running anywhere from six months to a year in length. I can't imagine what kind of waiting list they must have. And they made us all feel so welcomed- when we got there, there were lots of handshakes and hugs and introductions. When we left, there were all kinds of goodbyes. Christ's love was so evident. And that's what is needed for a true life changing experience.
Next, we fixed sack lunches and headed out to Market Street, near the Civic Center and the awesome fountains that are out in front of them. This is where many homeless gather during the day. Prop 19 has limited where people are allowed to sit and lay down on the sidewalk, but sitting around the fountain is still accepted. Some will bathe there or try and get some sleep before going to check into a shelter around three o'clock. We were told to try and have a conversation with someone in need of a lunch, to keep them company and help them feel human by making a connection. There's that word again.
A man walked up to me as soon as we got there and asked if I had a lunch for him as he eyed the paper bags I was carrying. I said I did and held out my hand to introduce myself and handed him one of the bags. He took the bag, pulled a ringing cell phone out of his pocket and walked away to take the call.
Alright. Try again.
This sort of thing happened to several of us. I can understand wanting to avoid a conversation due to embarrassment. One man I had dinner with on a previous trip said he was embarrassed to eat at restaurants when he could scrape together the money because of his appearance. He was worried that he might smell, or that his clothes were too dirty…we were warned about this by the staff at Crossroads as well. The people probably won't want to discuss their situation in detail. It's embarrassing. Being poor is embarrassing. This saddens me. But, I think I can understand. It doesn't mean their not grateful. Just try again.
I called a few friends over who were also out of food and we sat together on the steps of the fountains. I decided waiting for someone to seek us out might make for a more open conversation. And once we pulled out our own lunches, a lady walked over to us and asked if we had any food. I smiled and handed her an apple and Rachel gave her a bag of chips. She asked us our names and introduced herself as Stony. She was originally from South Carolina and had moved to San Francisco with her boyfriend and three kids twenty-four years ago. When she got to the city, she had a some money and got a decent job. She explained to us that she started realizing that this guys was using her, he wasn't working and he was seeing another woman on the side. And he got this other woman pregnant. And was abusing Stony's oldest daughter. She had to get away from him and found an apartment, but over the years this experience began wearing at her psychologically and brought up the traumatic experiences of rape and a resulting abortion from her teenage years. The good news is that two of her kids went to college on full rides and she found a man who "puts up" with her. Her youngest daughter is living in San Francisco and is pregnant with a baby boy. Stony wasn't sure what to think about that, but she says she completely supports her daughter :) she's unemployed because of a bad knee and uses a cane to help her walk. She and her husband recently lost their apartment and are trying to find a better situation. "I always imagined my life would be better, you know?" Stony said, and her voice got thick and she ducked her head. She looked way older than forty-four, but I guess a hard life will do that to you. She kept saying that she just wants to settle down, wants to find some normalcy before her grandson is born. We laughed and listened in silence and were angered for her…what a life. It looked like she was suffering from jaundice and she admitted she had an issue with drinking, but she wants to stop. I told her about the graduation we saw at City Team and she said she's been in so many programs that she doesn't think any of them would work. But, she would like to find a psychiatrist who would be willing to see her. At that point, her husband came looking for her and they had to leave to check into a shelter. It was like she poured herself out to us and then she was gone. She's lived a hard life but still has a great sense of humor and a desire to connect to others.
Just as we had started checking the time to see if we should head back or not, a man walked up and sat on the step in front of us. Rachel offered him her apple and he quietly took it. We weren't used to the quiet demeanor, most of the people we had encountered to this point had been really extroverted. Rachel walked back to her seat and the man followed her up, but sat several feet away from us. He introduced himself after a while of silence and Kyle asked how long he'd lived in San Francisco. Sean answered that it was a long, sad story and he didn't want to think about it. He looked about thirty-five years old, but who knows how old he really was. I asked him where he was staying and he said, "I'm currently homeless." He was so discouraged and spoke so quietly that we all leaned over each other to hear him better. He said he didn't want this life and he wasn't sure how he got to this place. We tried to gently encourage him and we prayed for him before we had to head back to Outpost. He started crying and thanked us as we headed out. We had given him Outpost's information in hopes that he would come to the weekend service and get some guidance, but he didn't show. I hope he's ok…
We spent some time with the teens when we got back, lots of basketball, video games and pizza. Then, we headed out to do a hot chocolate ministry in the Tenderloin.
Oh the Tenderloin. It's got quite the rep. My favorite Thai restaurant, Thai House Express, is on Geary and Larkin, which borders this district, so I "brave" the Tenderloin often. Legend has it that it's the roughest part of the city. Apparently it's named for a similar area of New York City, but many say it's named the Tenderloin because police officers used to accept extra pay under the table for working in this district. Thus, they were able to afford tenderloin…get it?
Ya, I dunno.
But, it was a very quiet night in city and there weren't many people on the street outside of the sixth street corridor. We still managed to run out of hot chocolate and socks, scarves and hats. We got to talk with some of the people outside of YWAM and Glide ministries. Saw some abandoned needles, a few deals and some people with catatonic movements. This is not what God wants for these people. But it seems so overwhelming sometimes. How do I help?
We headed to Union Square after spending a few hours in the rougher parts of town. We went to a little Thai restaurant and got some Pad Thai and curry and Thai iced tea to go. We walked to the park and ate and watched the lights and people. We checked out the ice skating rink. And we laughed. We shook off the sadness of the day's work. The overwhelming feeling of it all ebbed away a little. 
Then I realized: I guess I simply do what I can.
I realized after walking down Jones that I'm not afraid of the city. I'm not afraid of the people in the city, or the noise, or the addiction, or the poverty. I just want to help. And this comforted me. I know I'm equipped to make changes because God's leading me. I just have to find a way to deal with the things intended to discouraged me. It seems like I've seen it all lately. Rumors and accusations and just plain unkind things. Things that tear me down just when I think I've found my feet. But these things are not from God. I can learn from it and let it go, or I can let it distract me and keep me up at night. You'd think that wouldn't be a hard choice, especially when I know these things are untrue and that God wants nothing more than for me to accept His peace. But I struggle. How do you handle worry and stress? I could use some pointers!
When I woke up the next day, I rushed and got ready, packed and cleaned the girl's bathroom. We all pitched in to set up for church and headed out to grab breakfast and coffee before the preservice Bible studies began. Blue Bottle again, this time I got a Kyoto style iced coffee :) So good! 
The Bible study was emotional. We heard more about what goes on in the area, what things are considered daily occurrences, what is normal. Like crack addiction. And break-ins. And trying to reenter society after spending a decade in prison. It's a struggle, but the people have found hope in Christ and in the Word. You could tell they looked forward to getting together all week. They strived to pull the full meaning of each passage from Scripture and talked over the meaning of the words with one another. They talked about personal experiences relating to the passages. They connected with one another and encouraged each other.
Service was also encouraging and personal. There were probably seventy people packed into the room as the pastor peached out of first Samuel. He spoke to members personally and different people contributed to the service. It was incredible to see how similar the church was to a family. When service was over, everyone helped tear down and then they stayed and talked and ate together (someone brought more doughnuts :) ).
We were thanked and edified by the staff and encouraged to come back. They even offered us internships! We said our thank you's and goodbyes and took pictures. Then, we headed to lunch in the Tenderloin.
The bf met me in the city around 2:30 and we spent most of our time walking up and down the Embarcadero and going to dinner at The Plant Cafe Organic near the Ferry Building. It was delicious. We had the cheese plate, pasta with parmesan, squash, and arugula, and green curry with shrimp. And we bought each other dinner :) We sat on the pier and talked for a while before heading all the way back up to the car in the O'Farrell garage. Just a really casual night, perfect after an awesome but tiring weekend.
That's my weekend update. And some stuff that's been going on in my head :) 

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