I just came back from a weekend with my Youth Group, the Rock! serving those in need and the poor in the SF/Oakland urban areas. We stayed in the basement of a church building, and visited various local ministries through the weekend. Our team was split in two groups of ten with each group doing separate projects and visiting separate areas on different days. We helped at CityTeam Oakland cleaning up the basement (years of junk and garbage), St. Vincent DePaul (helped serve and clean at the soup kitchen), did a prayer tour through many of the struggling urban areas of San Francisco and spent time with the homeless in areas such as the Tenderloin, Haight-Asbury, and the Mission. We also visited the Civic Center, the SF Main Library, St. Anthony’s church/kitchen, and even walked ½ of the Golden Gate Bridge while we prayed for the city, and helped pack over 30,000 lbs. of pinto beans for the SF Food Bank. I feel compelled to write this blog today because I want to be able to capture some of the memories and the lessons that God revealed to me during this time.
This whole trip was called a STILT, or Short-term Immersion Learning Trip, and was meant to raise awareness and help to change the perspectives of our youth kids and how they viewed others. I prayed and hoped that their hearts would be changed by this trip, and that the result would be that they would be a people that would not only know the love of Jesus Christ, but that they would be actively loving like Jesus would love. Through the whole trip, I was deeply moved as I watched the kids come out of their comfort zones and engage the people we meet. Each kid grew as God worked in them and stretched them. For them it was not only just giving away socks and blankets while we traversed through the City in the rain and cold, but actually hearing and touching the people we were talking to… that hit them hard.
Little did these homeless people know, but we were deeply touched by their stories and lives. During our time out in the windy, freezing rain, I never heard one complaint from our kids as we froze and trembled in the cold. The realization that at least 13,000 people in the City were experiencing the same thing as us, and having to live in these conditions broke our hearts. Hearing their stories made these people real to us… ultimately, they were human and were made in God’s image. It was not about even feeling good ‘cuz were helping them out, but it was simply being in harmony with God’s love for the people in this world that are so often ignored and overlooked. It is in these times that my lil sis Katrina best put it when she said to me as we left the Haight area: “…it is ultimately about God and not about glory for us. Not for our pride, because it’s not our work”… that made me realize just how right she was about everything. This was all God’s and He was at work… we were blessed to even be a part of His work.
My lil bro Joshua during our prayer walk on the Golden Gate Bridge then shared this insight with me that knocked me over… he shared: “no longer are these people part of the landscape, but they are characters in God’s story.” Isn’t that just so true? So easily have I made a person a part of the background of my life… the landscape that they have been de-humanized… and it is again being reminded of this indifference that I remember Cornell West’s quote that “Indifference is the essence of inhumanity.” Yet it was my fellow staffers’ insights during our post-trip time of reflection/sharing/prayer that really hit me. My friend shared his personal experience after hearing the testimony of a homeless brother in Christ named Tom… that “sometimes you don’t realize you’re dying inside until you meet someone who’s really alive.” This impacted us tremendously and made us realize just how truly poor we are. This is the reason for my title of this blog.
I wanted to share about my poverty because after this weekend, I realized just how poor that I truly am. Certain Scriptures became more real to me than ever and they were humbling. The question to consider is this… if Jesus were here today, do you think he would be hanging out with me in the nice areas of SF, or he would be with the poor in the Tenderloin? When I visualize this, I realized he would probably be among the people at St. Boniface rather than with me at Starbucks in Fremont. Not only that, but this verse pierced my soul during the weekend… “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). My Savior, My King, My Salvation… himself was “homeless” and did not even have many of the comforts I had. So why do all these things matter to me? I think it is in the midst of this realization and my friend’s words that I realized that those that often have so very little, have ALSO very little that could distract them and to hinder them from an unadulterated trust, passion and relationship with God.
I am so rich in my resources, my security, my comforts, my ambitions, my dreams, my hopes, my appetites … but I am so poor when it comes to what truly matters… love, hope, joy, faith, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and many more things that are God’s. You see these things are all about me and yet in the ultimate cosmic scheme of life and reality, they are just not that important! Maybe to me they are important, but in God’s story… most of this stuff is but dross and of no useful purpose but to merely satisfy a selfish need to feel like something of worth… to quantify my existence. Ultimately, what I feel as I consider the Gospel is that truly, I am poor because these things rather than bringing me completeness and security… have merely only brought me hunger and dissatisfaction. I am poor because rather than having God, I only have these temporary things. To be rich then is to have the infinite… that which never perishes… that which completely satisfies… which is only mine through the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ and confirmed in my life by the Spirit.
As I reflect, I know I am so rich because of God’s love for me through Jesus Christ, but the more I get to know Jesus and have a relationship with Him, the more I realize that my life needs to be more attuned to His frequency… to resonate with His heart and love for this world and the brokenness in it. Till I find this comfort in Him, I will never feel at home… I will always be homeless. I leave with this quote… may it find you and your heart… and may you find our true “home”.
“We carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons us (110).
Joy is home, and I believe that the tears that came to our eyes were more than anything else homesick tears (128).
Woe to us indeed if we forget the homeless ones who have no vote, no power, nobody to lobby for them, and who might as well have no faces even, the way we try to avoid the troubling sight of them in the streets of the cities where they roam like stray cats. And as we listen each night to the news of what happened in our lives that day, woe to us if we forget our own homelessness (104).
To be homeless the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them. To be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is peace for all of us (140).”
– The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections – Frederick Buechner
To read more of our reflections during our trip, check out our Trip Blog: