Tenderloin Murals

My friend Lina posted a while ago about her favourite Tenderloin mural. I’m so glad she did because the site she linked to provided me with the photos of my favourite murals which I was never able to get myself.

Also part of the mural which Lina pointed out, is this:

I think it’s such a beautiful image of newness of life in a place that can seem dark and lifeless. The seeds at the bottom are painted by children in the neighbourhood, a wonderful expression of the hope for the future which grows in these young lives.

Another of my favourites is on a building right on the edge of the TL as you walk towards it from Union Square and the more tourist populated areas.

This would be my desire for the people of the TL (with a little Jesus too).

This is probably my most favourite. They repainted it a couple of weeks before I left and replaced it with weird alien robots but I think this summed up the hope of many within the TL so much better. It was right at the end of our block, on the corner of Ellis and Jones, painted on the side of a bar. I walked past it every day but the truth of it never dwindled for me.

“I think people should know more about this place.
There is good people. There is bad people.
So I think I just want people to know that. Just don’t judge a book by its cover. Theres alot more inside”


SF2011: The Children in the Streets

I wrote this for the church magazine in Aberdeen, which was published this morning, so now I can post it here:

At the beginning of my time in San Francisco God gave me a verse. That morning we had gone for a walk in the Tenderloin; we were supposed to be finding the treasures that the neighbourhood holds behind the drugs and violence that are the face of it. But as we walked we just became more and more broken for the area. We already loved it and we ended up just sitting on the pavement, unable to face the pain that we were burdened with. That afternoon we spent some time praying individually and as I stood at the back of the room I asked God how I could bear this burden. How could I possibly be expected to carry it when it was just so heavy? As I stood there, a Bible reference came to mind, as though it was on the tip of my tongue and I wanted to speak it out loud: Jeremiah 6:11.

“I am full of the wrath of the Lord; I am weary of holding it in. “Pour it out upon the children in the streets” (ESV)

It was a real acknowledgment for me that God understood exactly what I was feeling because He feels it too. In fact, it was His burden first. For a long time, I had been praying that He would break my heart for what breaks His, and yet had been surprised by the pain. But here I could hear Him say that this wrath within me – a wrath against the injustice, against their pain, a love that is all-consuming – is His wrath. And having been wrestling with it for years I was so weary of holding it in; weary from trying to work it out for myself, weary of trying to fix the world in my own strength. But here was God saying that it was time to pour out that ferocious love upon His precious children who call the streets of the Tenderloin and San Francisco home.

Someone once told me that our drop in-centre was essentially a day-care for grown-ups. He was right. As one of the few facilities of its type in the area, the Ellis Room provides sanctuary for all kinds of people from the street. Everyday the same group of men will sit and play chess, while another group will stand around the pool table waiting for their turn to show off their skill. Another three or four guys come in to play table tennis everyday. Some come to read, to play dominoes or cards. Some come for a safe place to get a couple of hours sleep. And some come just to sit. But I think it would be fair to say that what draws them all to our place in particular, and what keeps them coming back, is a sense of community.

Maybe we never grow out of that childlike need for love and attention. I think it is probably a part of being human; of being created in the image of a communal God. And whether they receive that from their peers in the centre or from the staff, the people who come into the Ellis Room are desperate for it. Many have been abused, abandoned, ignored. They get a shock when you want to have a conversation with them and genuinely want to know about who they are. They aren’t used to such attention without negative consequences. Like little children they need to be taught again how to love and be loved and the best way to do that is to lead by example.

They’re also like children in the way that you care about them. You begin to feel a sense of responsibility for them. You get defensive over them. In the same way that a child will, these people, who society has rejected, will capture your heart.

I quickly learned that the treasures in the neighbourhood, which we had been sent out to find that morning, are not in quirky little stores or amazing cups of coffee. They are in the people. The people who are so easily concealed by appearance or addictions but who have beautiful, sweet spirits that you can’t help but love. And in the brokenness, the pain, the bitterness and fear, you see the very image of God etched upon their hearts and you know that these are His children upon whom He longs to pour out His love.

SF2011: Daily

One of the most common questions I get asked is what precisely was I doing in San Francisco. General reply: “Helping young people to help homeless people”. It’s usually sufficient but I realise that people don’t know what that looks like or how I did that and would like a little more information.

Our first two weeks as a Summer of Service team were spent in training. This meant we did all the activities which we would eventually lead the youth groups in. Around these there was teaching on various topics: from responsibilities and boundaries, to public speaking and community living. Doing all that the youth were going to do also meant work duties in the mornings and evenings (will not forget cleaning out the trash cans – translate: wheelie bins – when Bethany was straight in there as Tom stood to the side and gagged, poor guy). We would also attend the worship, bible study and meetings for the base staff as well as having our own team devotions a couple of times a week. It was a very full and busy two weeks. We were all completely shattered by the end but it enabled us to get to know each other, the base, the city and the activities quickly.

I also spent two week in the kitchen at one point. We all took it in turns to be in there throughout the summer. I’m very grateful to God for putting me on kitchen duty when He did – it was another sign of His sovereignty that I didn’t have to deal with some difficulties that were had with those teams. We would be preparing breakfast and dinner for up to ninety people everyday, starting at 6am. There was one day when I was on my feet for 14 hours in total! It was undoubtedly the most physically demanding thing we had to do and often left you feeling disconnected from the goings on of the base and team but it was vital work and a good lesson in humility and hard graft!

I was blessed to be able to spend two weeks working in the Ellis Room drop-in centre as well. This was a much lighter workload, with evenings off and the days spent just chatting to people who came in. There were some heated exchanges at times but I think the most difficult part of this was becoming emotionally involved in the lives of the people who came in and hurting with them as they struggled. It was a brilliant opportunity to spend genuine time with some of the guys though and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The rest of my time (down to only five weeks) was spent leading the youth groups who came from across the states for a week of urban mission in the city. We would take either a morning or evening shift (though it rarely worked out like that!) and be with them for 8 hours or so, leading them on activities. So, here is a typical day in the life of a YWAMSF SOSer:

7.00 Breakfast (also make sack lunch)
7.45 Work Duties (cleaning kitchen/bathrooms, vacuuming, trash etc.)
8.30 Teaching and Worship (the theme for the summer was “Expand Heaven Here”)
10.30 Prayer Walk (neighbourhood, BJM, skyscraper safari etc.)
12.30 Homeless Sacklunch (you’ve got two lunches each, now find a new friend to share them with!)
15.00 Bucket Brigade (cleaning in the corner stores around the Tenderloin)
16.00 Debrief (sharing about how all the day’s activities went and what we learned)
17.00 Dinner
17.45 Work Duties
18.30 Team Time (time for the team to reflect/teach/worship together without YWAM staff)
19.30 Hot Chocolate (handing out hot chocolate and praying with people in numerous areas)
21.00 Debrief
22.00 Quiet Time
23.00 Lights Out (phew!)

And that was pretty much everyday, just with variations in the activities that were done.

Of course, they’d get one day off from this when they were on Homeless Plunge but that was a whole other kettle of fish.

Although YWAM doesn’t run a soup kitchen type thing we did have two events in a week when we’d welcome people into the Ellis Room for our Dessert Social or Love Feast. We’d pack the storefront out with seating for a hundred and try to make it as anti-foodline as possible with decorations, hosts at tables, waiters and food options. It was one of my favourite times in the week because you got to watch as the young people sat and engaged with the people, loving on them and sharing Christ with them. One of the hardest things I had to do all summer, however, was turning people away from these events – it was heartbreaking and I always dreaded being put on door duty but, thankfully, it didn’t have to be done too often.

There you are then: I’m not sure you could get a more comprehensive run down of what I did without reading through all my timetables and manual.

SF2011: An Education

I learned a lot in San Francisco. A lot about God, a lot about myself and a lot of practical things. Here are a few:

God’s Providence
This is something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past year but I think I would have to be blind to be unable to see His hand at work controlling all of this. From getting me to SF, to the weeks I was in the Kitchen, to the encounters I had on the streets. He IS in control.

God’s Power
He did mighty things, every week, regardless of how “well” I performed. I regularly felt like I was being held back so that I could simply sit and watch Him at work before. He doesn’t need me; he chooses me!

Philippians 2:4 “He humbled himself” rattled around my head for the majority of the time that I was there. It was amazing to relent control completely and admit that I am completely incapable.

I had to humble myself before people as well: keeping my mouth shut when something wasn’t being done the way I would do it or accepting (constructive) criticism without being childishly bitter. I had to unlearn the word “mine” – someone could take something straight out of my hand (a cup of juice for example) and I would be completely okay with it.

It is so hard but so worth it. It’s scary but brings glory to God. It’s risky but allows deeper relationship. Reveal your own heart and allow others to impact it.

There’s an element of it in encouraging others too but there is something beautiful about speaking truth into one another’s lives. It encourages positivity.

Knowing that God is in control, letting go of the little things, actively seeking to encourage others and gleaning more of God’s heart for other people led me to a more positive outlook in general.

I know now that there is such beauty in seemingly dark places. I know that the goodness of God can be seen in any circumstances. When you begin to rejoice in the smallest of things and see every good thing as coming from the Lord, you realise just how much there is to praise Him for. What right or reason do I have to be downcast when friends of mine are sleeping on the streets and are some of the most joyful people I’ve ever met, still worshiping and giving glory to God for what they do have?

“the joy of the Lord is your strength” – Nehemiah 8:10.

Ultimately all of this leads to a deep rooted joy in the Lord. And I think that that itself comes from a new depth of love for Him. Everything that I listed being thankful for and so much more leads me to be continually praising Him. As we were taxiing from the gate in the airplane, I wrote in my journal that even though I was heartbroken to leave, there was nothing left to do but worship God for an amazing summer. I am grateful. And I love Him more because I have a better understanding of Him and can see His love in His goodness to me. God is joyful! He rejoices over His creation. He is glad to give us the good things we desire. He loves to surprise us. We are filled with His joy.

There are some more things which I want to give individual posts to so that I can expand more but I think this is a good start.

SF2011: Continuing

I’m aware that I haven’t posted all that much of consequence since I got back. There has been so much going on in my head and my heart that putting it into words was daunting enough, never mind those words being read by people around the world (that’s right folks, worldwide readership now!). So I’ve kept my thoughts to myself for a wee while and posted some small titbits for your amusement in the mean time. But, the thing is, I’m not done with this San Francisco business. I have so much more left to tell you! SF2011 posts will, therefore, be continuing sporadically among whatever delights this new season and new semester produce.

There are two posts by dear friends of mine which I would first of all like you to read.

The first is from the wonderful Lina, an intern with BJM, who wrote a beautiful post about a woman she has been working with this summer. I think it gives a great insight into what ministry is like at YWAMSF and in the Tenderloin. I experienced many similar things in my own time there. Amy:

I was challenged in so many ways by that encounter. Everything in me had to surrender and trust that Jesus is good, that He’s in full control. I was not in control, in many ways I felt completely helpless, but all I could do was love her and care for her the best I could. I have to trust that Jesus is bigger, Jesus is victorious and He is good.

The second is from my friend Jon. He wrote a great account of a very happy event on base – the graduation of one of the students in the 360 discipleship programme. An event 15 Years in the Making:

Throughout the years YWAMSF had reached out to him for a while, presumably first with our once Street Team ministry.  Eventually, Ali decided to join our newly pioneered 360° ministry, a ministry aimed at discipling people from the streets into a lifestyle in line with God, and in honor of Christ.  15 years later, Ali is the first graduate of this ministry.

Go listen to my friends for a while whilst I try to figure out where to start with our next story . . .


SF2011: i am thankful for . .

  • the faithfulness of God
  • a new family
  • hugs
  • impromptu kitchen dance parties
  • days at the beach
  • answered prayers
  • the orange i ate on homeless plunge
  • bananagrams
  • God-incidences (like coincidences but more Godly …)
  • the ministry that went before us
  • sour patch kids
  • tea-parties
  • mario-kart
  • hugs
  • late night kitchen debriefs
  • clam chowder bread bowls
  • team devotions
  • Its-It
  • worship
  • Harry Potter evenings
  • popcorn with M&Ms
  • praying before bed with my roommates
  • family dinners
  • Thai and Indian left overs
  • Chicken Tikka Masala Burritos! (trust me, so good!)
  • alphabetical attributes of God in the back yard
  • Baptisms!
  • matching t-shirts
  • capture the flag
  • papusas
  • $2 bus fares
  • crack pigeons (I’ll explain some time . . .)
  • playing rummy
  • chocolate chip bagels (and keeping them back for the team)
  • alcatraz
  • accents
  • family
  • Jesus

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SF2011: Philz

Something I meant to tell you about the whole time I was in San Francisco was Philz Coffee. Without a doubt the best coffee I’ve ever had outside of Italy and definitely the best coffee I’ve had from a chain store (I’m pretty sure 7 stores counts as a chain).

They grind the beans for every cup individually and then make it to your taste adding as much cream or sugar as you’d like. My personal favourite was the Philtered Soul – so good!

So, if you’re ever in the city, be sure to stop by one of their stores, have a chat with the staff about what you like, they’ll make it fresh in front of you and you’ll never want Starbucks again.





SF 2011: Take it All

There’s a song that we sing a lot here called All My Devotion.

(I like my friend Sam’s version better but this is the best YouTube had to offer)

The chorus has been stuck in my head all day:

Take it all, take it all away
Just give me Jesus, just give me Jesus.

As all my friends leave, and as I look to leave myself, I’m having to ask if Jesus is enough. Or more, if He is all that I want. Do I want Him more than all of this?

keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

– Jude 21

Clinging to Him with all that I am right now; trusting that His grace is sufficient and asking Him to be all that I want.

SF2011: the end

San Francisco 2011 is coming to an end. Four days and everyone will pack up and leave. Three days later and it will be my turn. My heart is breaking.

I’ve been reading my posts about preparing for the trip and the ones in the lead up to my departure. It feels like a million years ago and a very different rachael. I’m more nervous about going home than I ever was about coming here. All the things that I was worried about have never arisen: I’ve not been the slightest bit homesick, my knees haven’t given me any issues, I’ve seen and done everything I wanted to do and life in community has been a million times better than I could ever have hoped for.

I’ve made friends who have impacted my life and changed my heart. Friends who became family immediately and will remain so for a very long time. There have been times where I’ve been completely broken before God and other moments where I’ve felt on top of the world. I’ve fallen in love with a city that is so breathtakingly beautiful no photo will ever capture it. I’ve fallen in love with people who are the very lifeblood of the city though no-one will ever acknowledge them. I have a bigger picture of God and a clearer understanding of who he has made me to be.

I have to wonder, if I return in a year or two years time, how different the base would be and whether or not I’d love it just the same. I have to consider my heart for the role of the local church in urban mission and my belief in the balance of ministry and secular work, neither of which YWAM caters for. But it’s difficult for me to look back at everything which led to this trip – the interactions and experiences which prepared me and pushed me towards it over a number of years – and to think that it is now over. It’s difficult for me to see what this is pushing me towards other than returning.

I’m not ready to leave. I’m not ready for this to be over.

My heart is breaking.

SF2011: “I love you”

I feel like every other phrase spoken here on base is “I love you”.

We say it a lot.

We say it and we mean it.

In our first two weeks here we made the decision to be very vulnerable with each other. It’s something that I fear but something that I have learned a lot about this summer. I told these guys things about myself that I’ve never shared with another human being. We were open and honest about the difficulties of our past and our dreams for the future. Now we’ve lived together for almost 11 weeks; ate, slept and worked together almost 24hours a day for 73 days – we know each other. And we love one another.

Something else which I had to get used to was an atmosphere of encouragement and affirmation. Left, right and center people would be telling me things they saw in me, qualities they appreciated, things they were grateful that I’d done. I had to adjust to the positivity – there was a severe lack of sarcasm, mockery and derogatory comments. This loving generosity was not the stingy, satirical, scottishness I was used to. I soon found that as I became more comfortable with receiving encouragements, I became more comfortable with giving them. I was able to shirk off my good British reserve and speak truth to people without getting all self conscious or feeling like I was encroaching upon some unspoken personal boundary.

Another thing which arose very quickly after we arrived was talk of the “5 love languages“; and which one we each identified with. We would discuss at length whether we were “words of affirmation”, “quality time”, “receiving gifts”, “acts of service” or “physical touch” kind of people. I was pretty certain I was a service/gifts kind of girl but it turns out I’m as huggy as they come and if someone isn’t, I just don’t know how to relate or communicate affection to the point that it stresses me out. I’m a hugger. Y’all are going to have to deal with it.

So, we tell each other how much we love each other: a lot. And we mean it. We’re this dysfunctional little family that knows each other’s dirty laundry but also sees how beautiful and uniquely wonderful we each are and we’re not afraid to tell each other. And there are lots of hugs, for no apparent reason.

I’m going to attempt to bring this home. Less of the sarcasm, less of the cynicism and more willingness to affirm people and say nice things about them to them.

SF2011: Patch

I want to start telling you the stories of the people whom I’ve met. They’re the reason I came and the evidence of the work God is doing. He has used each of them to break me, mold me and remake me.

The first wonderful man I want to tell you about is Patch.

We met him a few weeks ago as we did an activity called “homeless sacklunch” in the civic centre, just at the bottom of the United Nations plaza, in the midst of the market there. We had been having trouble finding anyone to share lunch with, circling numerous times before seeing an older, burlier looking man standing with a cart that was piled high on the edge of the side walk. A little timidly we approached him and asked if he’d like to eat with us; he said yes but that he wouldn’t sit down, so we just stood.

For some reason, as we discussed his family and childhood; the way he had grown up on a farm and had ridiculous competitions with his brother; the plants he was growing in the pots in his cart (pumpkins, corn and palm trees); he really reminded me of my dad. He couldn’t be all that much older and beneath the beard and cap, under the harsh exterior, there was a gentleness, a quietness, a compassion and childlikeness to be rivalled. He was so proud of his plants, so full of love that he was desperate to care for something, anything.

Before we left him we offered to pray with him. He said that there was nothing that he needed prayer for but that we should pray for everyone else who needs help. Caleb prayed for him and as he prayed for the growth of his plants he took both us into a big bear hug. Then, as Caleb came to pray for everyone else, as he had requested, Patch let out this huge growl. We were standing in the middle of civic centre, surrounded by tourists and business people, market stalls on either side of us but he just roared like a lion as Caleb and I laughed with joy at his enthusiasm.

All this was about a month ago and, though we’ve been keeping an eye out for him, there’s been no sign of Patch. Until two nights ago. I was with a group at the civic centre again and there he was. He had spoken to some of my group members whilst I was with another guy and he had started to walk away. As soon as I was finished I ran over to the others to ask if it was him and, as soon as they confirmed that it was, I tore up the UN Plaza to catch him.

He didn’t remember me at all. But was pleasantly surprised at how much I knew about him.

I asked him how his plants were getting on and he said that everybody needs something or someone to care for and plants are the easiest things to do that for so he had given them to really good homes. I asked him if he still wanted to live on his farm and he said no because he would just sit in a rocking chair all day watching the fields of corn and he would get bored because he doesn’t like doing the same thing all day every day.

His hands hadn’t changed a bit. His nails were still sharpened to points and his palms were still black, encrusted with the dirt of the street. As I shook his hands they felt like a kind of sand paper or really rough leather. But beneath the harsh exterior remained a beautiful, gentle soul.

I did a little jump of joy as we walked away, so excited to have met my friend again and to be able to remind him that someone is thinking of him.

SF2011: Not Scared

The Tenderloin is a place to be avoided.

It’s full of those people who our parents always tell us to avoid. You’re meant to keep your head down, your bag close and to walk at a brisk pace as you go past them. If there’s a group of people gathered, it’s probably wisest to cross to the other side of the street.

Even better, just don’t come here.

Don’t subject yourself to the drugs and violence. You don’t want to see people shooting up or lighting their crack pipes in the doorways; you don’t want weed smoke blown in your face. You don’t want to see people prostituting themselves or have abuse shouted at you across the street. It’s a scary place.

And yet, I’ve never felt personally threatened. I walk out the doors, the relative safety of YWAM and feel no fear. These streets feel like home and, whilst I know I should be scared, I feel at peace and comfort when I’m out there. Obviously, I don’t take unnecessary risks such as going out alone after dark and we’re never allowed to purposefully go out on ministry alone but popping out to the corner store or the coffee shop isn’t an issue.

This week I’ve had two encounters on the streets with guys who have spoken to me about people being scared of them.

On Tuesday I was out doing Hot Chocolate ministry on Market Street (the main shopping street through the city). I walked past a guy in jeans and a red nintendo sweatshirt, unshaven, toothless, quite obviously homeless. I looked him in the eye and gave him a half smile. We walked past each other but after around 5 feet he turned and shouted, “Hey, thank you!” I was a little confused so we walked back towards each other. I asked him what he was thankful for and he said it was because I had looked at him, straight in the eye, rather than avoiding his gaze. I was a little astounded. I tried to explain that it was normal, that I wasn’t doing anything significant but he was adamant that he was really grateful.

Yesterday I was walking to the corner store and a homeless guy was conversing with some people (who didn’t look as homeless). I didn’t quite look at them, I was in a rush and didn’t want to interrupt their conversation. But this big African American homeless guy shouted after me, “You can look me in the eye, you don’t need to be scared you know!” And I shouted back that I wasn’t. Because I can genuinely say that I’m not.

It’s difficult to explain how scary this place is and yet how not scared I am. These people who we’re told to avoid our whole lives are beautiful, wonderful people who hold the very image of God within them. They are so similar to those of us who have a bed or a less obvious addiction.The Tenderloin is a community full of danger but also so much more closely knit that the idealised suburban utopias. A community that is violent but caring, angry and yet compassionate. Fear isn’t necessary.