Toothpick San Francisco

San Francisco in toothpicks. You’ve got to see this to believe it!



So maybe you thought I was done with California and San Francisco. 

You know, it’s been seven months, I should be over it by now.

Well, I’m not I’m afraid.

Hence: California2012.

That’s right people, not just a city this time but a state (or a good part of it at least).


The first two weeks it’ll just be me visiting friends, riding the greyhound and loving life:

San Francisco – 6 nights
Santa Clara – 2 nights
Springville – 2 nights
Santa Barbara – 6 nights

Then the family are flying out and it’s two weeks of road trip excellence:

Los Angeles – 3 nights
Cambria – 1 night
Monterey – 2 nights
Yosemite – 3 nights
San Francisco – 5 nights 

There are not words for my excitement.

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: 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: 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.





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.

SF2011: Homeless Church

This morning Bethany and I went to the Homeless Church which meets at the Embarcadero by the Ferry Building. It started here in the city about 17 years ago and now has two services every sunday, with up to two hundred people meeting together.

It was wonderful to worship in the open air, singing old school songs and not ministering to those who are homeless but worshiping with them. It was interesting to be the one entering on to their territory where they, in reality, are the superior ones. But they were very welcoming and many people approached us to say hello and talk. The man who we met on Homeless Plunge, Mike, was there so we spent some time talking to him and made new friends in Rick, James and Meredith.

They start with a time of worship and then serve coffee with cake/cookies (translate: biscuits) before the sermon is preached (today’s involved a ventriloquist’s puppet – those things never fail to freak me out) and afterwards they have a pancake breakfast.

One of the girls who we spoke to said how much she loved it there because nobody judged one another. She suffers from depression and paranoia and spoke of how “normal” churches place labels on “people like her” and condemn them but at Homeless Church she is welcomed, loved and supported.

One of the leaders, Stephanie, spent some time speaking to us about the lack of services for women in the city and the desperate need for more shelters and safe houses for them. She has such a passion for seeing something like that realised in the city; it was lovely to be able to pray with her.

I can’t wait to go back next week and to start dreaming of how I can take it all home.

SF2011: Evidence

I don’t think there’s any greater evidence of the work that God is doing here than the testimonies of the kids who have come and gone. It’s also a good insight into what I’ve been up to and the experiences I have had.

These guys were here two weeks ago from Foothills Community Church in Angels Camp, California, and went home on Sunday to tell their church all about their experiences.

Go to their website and listen to as much as you can.


SF2011: Giants/Capture the Flag

Yesterday was quite a day.

The college age team who has been here on outreach all week (who I went to the fireworks with) had a couple of extra tickets for the baseball game and I was one of the very fortunate staff who was invited to join them (the fact that I made pancakes for them for breakfast earlier in the week having nothing to do with it). Going to a giants game was one of my things to do whilst here so I was super excited and although they lost 5-2 it was still great fun to go along and soak up the atmosphere. Once again, it was just like in the movies with people wandering through the crowds selling things, the national anthem, the chants and songs, making couples kiss for the big screen, sing-alongs, and a wee fight in our section just to add to the entertainment.

It took me a couple of innings to fully get the hang of it but really the basic scoring and principles of baseball are pretty straight forward. It’s not the most fast paced of games however, but this is why there’s so much entertainment around the match and it makes it more of a social event than an intense sporting one.

The game finished at 10pm but the night wasn’t over yet. At midnight we set off again for the financial district for a game of Capture the Flag. There were 16 of us, a mixture of staff and outreach students, and it was a lot of fun. Running around the couple of blocks which we set out as the territory for the game in the small hours of the morning awoke something of a rebellious spirit in all of us I think. We got a lot of odd looks from security guards but managed to stay out of trouble. I had never played before but it’s a pretty easy concept. I was let down by my inability to run for more than a half a block without dying but I stood guard at my post with earnest and would shout as loud as possible to scare off the opposition if necessary.

There was one stupid moment where I went to tag someone so we could hold them in our jail but I managed to catch my foot on the curb and go flying into the sidewalk. I got my hand out in time so save my head and face but have now seriously pulled the muscles in my wrist and right up my arm to my shoulder. My hand and wrist were a little swollen and there are beautiful bruises, not only on my arm but also, on my knee and hip where I hit the ground. It made the guy I was trying to catch stop dead though so one of my teammates was able to get a hold of him: all worth it in the end! Unfortunately we had to call it quits before either flag had been captured but I reckon the other team could be called the winners as they got a lot closer than us.

It was a lot of fun and something I’m unlikely to ever do again so, despite the pain today, I had a great time and won’t forget it in a hurry!

Photo HT: Schill


SF2011: 4th of July

My very first celebratory 4th of July (for I think I’ve had approximately 19 regular ones before) was as huge as it would have been had I been in a more “American” city or hadn’t had to work but it certainly was fun.

It kind of began the night before when some of my American friends faced off with our Englishman over when independence was actually granted. There were choruses of Star Spangled Banner and God Save the Queen flying everywhere but I think we decided to let the Yanks have their day in the end.

Once I had finished my shift I went with some staff friends and one of our outreach teams towards Ghiradelli Square and Municipal pier to watch the fireworks over the bay. The band that they had playing were really terrible but ripping it out of them entertained us while we waited for the fireworks to start. They were really very good and we had a great time.

SF2011: Spiritual Warfare

Something we’ve been working through/with a lot in the past couple of weeks has been the concept of spiritual warfare.

It says in Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”.

Some of my friends have felt under serious spiritual attack with terrible nightmares and feeling of fear and heaviness. We/they have met people on the streets in whom something much darker than drugs or mental illness has been going on.

This is something which I feel was never really spoken about very much when I grew up in the church. And whilst I think it spoken of more in Edinburgh, it still isn’t a major focus or concern among many of my friends. I think this is probably the reason that I have a far more blase attitude towards it all.

We’ve come to realise this week that focusing on it doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it’s exactly what the devil wants: for us to take our eyes off Jesus and look at him instead.

Jesus says in Luke 10:19-20 “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” This is how we combat satan: we refuse to give him any credit and continue to worship God and give him all the glory he is due. We have to acknowledge that satan is present, be aware of his tactics for maintain our focus completely on the only one who is truly deserving. Because God and satan are not equal forces of good and evil which balance each other out. God is a T-Rex to satan’s ant; God is completely in control, sovereign and powerful over Satan, whom he created. It’s not an equal match because God has an overwhelming victory.

When things got really bad on Wednesday we spent the evening praying, partly against satan but primarily worshiping God and thanking him for all he was doing in and through the youth. Something changed that night and it transformed the remainder of the week.

SF2011: Because Justice Matters

One of the ministries here at YWAM San Francisco which frequently has a very deep impact on the Mission Adventure kids, and is having an even greater impact on the city, is Because Justice Matters.

Started about three years ago by one of the staff here (who just happens to come from Leicestershire, England) it aims to end injustice in this city by combating human trafficking, domestic violence, economic inequality and issues faced by immigrants. They do this by working with existing organisations, engaging politically, raising awareness, providing resources and trusting in a faithful God.

They have numerous ongoing projects which are changing lives in this area. Every Monday afternoon they have a nail day where women can come into the Ellis Room and receive a free manicure. This is effective because it encourages both conversation and physical touch, affirms dignity and builds relationship. It enables the team to show and speak of the love of God with women who often feel worthless and unlovable. They also take small gift bags to the women in the strip clubs on broadway, having prayed there for almost ten years and built relationships with bouncers, club owners, and the girls who work there. They have larger events every quarter for the women of the Tenderloin and also take on individual case work, supporting women over a lengthy period of time in getting themselves back on their feet.

All of this has to take place because of the huge part prostitution and sex trafficking plays in the culture of San Francisco. Ever since the city was established, prostitution has been rife. Three years ago it was very almost legalised in a vote where 46% of the population said it should be. Across the city there are 150 Massage Parlours, of which up to two thirds are fronts for brothels and trafficking. Some estimate almost 90 of those brothels are in the Tenderloin alone. These no longer come under the jurisdiction of the police but the Health Board and there is only one inspector who visits them all. If one is to be closed down they must receive three red flags from the inspector in an eighteen month period but for him to visit each one three times in that times period is very difficult. There are also serious issues in street prostitution, with the majority of the women whom we see on the streets of the Tenderloin having sold themselves at some point. One of the scariest things is that upwards of 90% of the women trapped in prostitution have been in the industry since they were only 13-15.

There have been small victories recently though as a safe house has finally been set up in the city and as they see clients getting back on their feet. A collaborative has been established since the Proposition K vote which brings together both secular and christian organisations from across the city to combat the issue. And awareness of everything that goes on behind the closed doors is increasing throughout the city.

The most that they can currently do with the “massage parlours” is pray. This can be frustrating for the kids as they feel powerless to do anything but they were praying in the broadway district, where they now minister to girls in the strip clubs, for ten years before they got access to them. But we absolutely believe in a God who is powerful to answer and mighty to save. So we cry out to him on behalf of the women, repent on behalf on those who abuse them and trust that He will work in their lives and bring redemption to this city.