Above is a picture of my good friend Jerry. Jerry came to the states from Ireland about two decades ago and has called San Francisco his home for a good majority of that time.
I met Jerry about three years ago through a ministry I help out with in the Haight/Golden Gate Park area. When I first met him, Jerry was struggling with a strong drinking problem. He would have periods of sobriety, but usually nothing longer than a couple of months. As I and others at the ministry began to form a relationship with him, we were able to gain his trust and offer him words of encouragement and hope as well as prayer. Through these relationships and most importantly, through prayer, Jerry was able to start a deeper relationship with God. One night, tired of the life he was living, Jerry asked God to take away his drinking problem. It has been almost 2 years and Jerry it still sober.
All of the above is awesome, but it isn’t the most amazing part of the story. The thing is, Jerry has been living outside around the Golden Gate Park area for 14 years – yes, 14 years!! I don’t know about any of you, but 14 years is A LONG LONG TIME to be living outside. But once Jerry stopped drinking, his desire to live outside became less and less. It is a lot easier to live outside when you are numbing yourself with alcohol on a daily basis. Now for those of you that know San Francisco, there are tons of social services provided for the homeless and if you are diligent and responsible enough, in time, you can land a place indoors at one of the many SRO’s. Enter in the road block – Jerry is not a citizen of the United States, thus making it difficult to receive any of the housing services this city has to offer.
So, when Jerry first approached me one Saturday night saying he really wanted to move inside, I knew that it would be almost impossible. I prayed for him that night that God would open a door for him and kept Jerry’s request in my prayers. Not even a couple of weeks later, Jerry told me that some of the nuns he knows at St. Anthony’s told him that they knew of a program that offered housing to people who weren’t citizens. That the spaces are very limited and a spot only opens up once every couple of years and one had just opened up and they thought he would be a good fit for it. A couple weeks later and Jerry was holding keys to his own room (pictured above) and was all moved into one of the newest and nicest SRO’s in all of San Francisco – rent-free, bill-free, and for as long as he wanted.
Would Jerry have been approached about the apartment without our prayers? The doubters would say that he would have, but not me. Our God is a God of love for everyone, but He especially has a huge heart for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed and when one of His children turns from their sin and puts his faith in Jesus, God is faithful to provide. I believe Jerry did this and is a testimony to God’s power, forgiveness and his deep love for all of us. Our God truly is a God that can do the impossible
Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved…. When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, his son, in us and loves us. And so we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them. There can never be enough of it.
“Shout it. Go on it and scream it from the mountains. Go on and tell it to the masses. That He is God”
-All Sons & Daughters (Band) All the Poor and Powerless (Song)
Awhile back, I heard a sermon that got me thinking about our role as ministers of the Gospel. I think it was a Francis Chan sermon, but am not sure. In the sermon he quoted some atheist who said something like this, “If you really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and He is the only way to get into heaven, you should be telling everyone. If you really believe in a literal heaven and hell, you should be out on the streets warning all who will listen of the impending doom if they do not accept Christ into their hearts”.
Whoever this was (probably Dawkins or Hitchens) they have a really good point. If we really do believe in all this stuff, if we really do believe in the Bible, we should be talking about Jesus a lot more. One of my friends told me something good the other day. He said, “There will be two things we can’t do in heaven – sin and tell people about Jesus”.
Now, I don’t think we should be scaring people into heaven because they are afraid to go to hell. Heaven isn’t a place where people go because they are afraid of hell. Heaven is a place for those who love and obey Jesus.
So, are you telling enough people about Jesus? Do you have any friends or family who don’t believe? Revelation 21 tells us that there will be a time when there is no more mourning, pain, suffering, or crying, but just prior to this (21:4), it says God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Why is God wiping away our tears? Could it be that we just said goodbye to a loved one that we will never see again because they did not put their faith in Christ? Could it be that we finally realized that eternal separation means forever?
I encourage all of you to be bold and share your faith with those around you. Who cares what they think about you. Share the Good News and don’t be ashamed. As Paul so eloquently put it in Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteousness shall live by faith.”
As you can tell, I am back to blogging again – so, time for a life update.
I am still living in the Tenderloin neighborhood (TL) of San Francisco and living and working with the intentional community New Life in Christ. Back in September, I was asked to be house director of the community and gladly accepted. I am also deacon and treasurer at the church. Things with the house are going well. We have officially become a men’s discipleship home and are looking for men that want to be part of a community that does life together.
New Life in Christ Church is doing well. Right now, we have a permanent home at YWAM on Sunday afternoons. We are really starting to see some fruit with those that have been following us around the past 2 years. We also have Bible studies at our house Wednesday thru Friday.
My ministry, Christians United for a Better Society (CUBS), has not done much since the Jericho March, but I am looking to remedy that. I have finalized a logo and am looking at making it an official 501c3. My goal is to build awareness this year as well put on a couple events. Right now I am running a book study on When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. This is started two weeks ago and is going really well. We are having amazing dialogue about the subject and am praying that something comes out of this.
On Tuesday mornings, I get to do some open-air preaching at Civic Center. It isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it really pushes me out of my comfort zone. Don’t worry, I am not one of those guys with a bullhorn yelling at people that they are evil and need to repent. I have a much friendlier approach (at least I think) and hope that unbelievers get a new perspective on Christianity as they walk by. I sometimes recycle my message from Tuesday and use it on Saturday nights at the Golden Gate Park ministry I help with.
One of the major changes moving forward is that I am looking for a job. After not working for a year and a half, my unemployment has expired. I still have some savings, so it is not urgent, but I think I am ready to start work again. I am looking for a part-time gig that will help me make just enough to get by so I can still focus the majority of my attention on the Tenderloin.
Outside of this, I have just been in a really thankful mood right now. I am blessed with the work God has put in front of me and have been encouraged by the fruit and planting of seeds that are coming out of it.
A woman who lived in the SRO next door to us passed away the other day. Regina was probably in her late 30s, was addicted to drugs, and was HIV positive. Most of the block knew her because she could usually be found outside her building smoking a cigarette and making comments (usually inappropriate) to anyone who walked by.
What is even sadder is that I am almost positive she wasn’t a believer. She would come to our church every once in a while and be disruptive or complain how her coffee didn’t have enough sugar in it. My memories of her consist of her coming up our stairs to Bible study, getting her coffee, saying something rude to me or someone else, and then walking back down the stairs, slamming the open door behind her so it would lock and no one else could come in.
You could say that most of us living in the house did not like Regina, but we did love her and we did pray for her. We tried to put a smile on as we walked by her as she yelled at us. All of us at one point in time tried to share the love of Christ with her, but she was never really receptive of it. Maybe she was upset at God because of her upbringing, maybe because she was ill or addicted, but whatever it was, she really didn’t want anything to do with God.
Now the scary part to think about is where is she is resting eternally? I don’t know what happened right before she died, but I am hoping she had a spiritual awakening. But the lesson learned for me and everyone is the house is that this was a woman who we saw every day and we knew she needed God. Did we do enough? Did we try hard enough? So many questions that will be unanswered. It reminds us of how serious our jobs are at sharing Jesus with EVERYONE we know. You may tell yourself that, oh, I can tell them about Jesus some other time - there will be another opportunity. But, when if there isn’t? What if that was your last chance to share with someone what Christ did for us on the cross.
This is a loud reminder for all of us. Personally, it has renewed my prayers for boldness, perseverance, and fearlessness when sharing the Gospel. Goodbye, Regina…
Have you ever regretted not sharing Jesus with someone?
Do you remember a time when you shared about Jesus and were surprised by the outcome?
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. –Galatians 6:9
As I dodged people sleeping on the sidewalks while going for my morning run, I was mulling over this verse. It is short, encouraging, and straight to the point. But these words are much easier to read then to put into practice. One of the real tests in doing ministry in the Tenderloin (and I imagine anywhere you do ministry) is when it comes to being patient with the community. I came to the TL full of the Spirit and ready to turn this neighborhood upside down. Man, did I have a reality check.
Aren’t we as humans just so impatient? Especially in this culture where we get everything so fast. If we want to buy something these days, we don’t even need to leave our house. All we need to do is point and click and it will arrive on your doorstep in two days (thank you, Amazon Prime). But this is not how ministry works. The relationships that blossom do so over months and months of trust building. The idea of success you once had has been thrown out the window and you are now looking for simple victories.
But Galatians gives us that hope. Paul tells us that we should bear one another’s burdens. That if we continue to do good, that there will be a harvest to reap. When I think of this harvest, I am not thinking of just a couple people coming to Christ, but I am thinking of many. Is it wise to keep my hopes up and think that God is going to move in an amazing way here? I am not sure. Everything in this world tells me that I should keep my expectations realistic. But what is the fun in that? Shouldn’t we expect more from our God? He is the God who separated the Red Sea. He is the God that proclaims liberty to the captives and oppressed. He is the God who heals the sick and comforts the brokenhearted. He is the God who loves us so much that he sent his only son to die for us so that we may have eternal life. Oh, He is a great God and as we continue to do good here in the Tenderloin, there will be a harvest to reap – a great one.
Dear Residents of the Tenderloin,
Why do you treat me the way that you do? Why do you use me as a public restroom? Why do you throw your trash out on me when there is a garbage can literally half a block away? Don’t you know that people sleep on my sidewalks? Don’t you know that this is not a way to treat the neighborhood you live in? I wish you could hear me. I wish I could talk with you and tell you what I want. I have goals. I inspire to be something. I want to be noticed for my good qualities, not my bad. I know that I can be something great. I believe in you. Please believe in me. I need you to see that there is another way to do things. That the little things DO make a difference.
Don’t you love me? Don’t you care about me? Don’t you want the best for me?
With Love + Hope,