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”

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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: 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:Tenderloin

Due to a lack of internet these posts are a little behind. This is from Monday 30th May.

I’ve now moved into the Tenderloin, to the YWAM San Francisco base.

As I was saying the other day, it’s not the most well respected area. There are a lot of problems here, and a lot of people with problems.

I found these images a few months ago but didn’t want to share them for fear of completely freaking out my Mum but it’s too late for her to do anything now!

I think they’re really interesting. You’ll notice that most of the graphics peak in the same place. And yup, you guessed it, it’s right here where I am!

And I was right, at first this place is intimidating but on our first night we were sent out with a set of questions/tasks to help us get to know the neighbourhood. Every time we stopped to look at the piece of paper or check the map someone would immediately ask us where we were wanting to go and offer us directions. These are people who look, and often smell, a little unusual. They’re probably going to spend the night sleeping on the sidewalk (translation: pavement) but they are so kind and eager to help you.

One man, Nathaniel, stopped us as he was coming out of his apartment block and asked us where we were from. He immediately identified us as Christians and encouraged us that, even though we’re in the roughest part of town, we’re protected because God is with us. This from a guy who you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley but who was so gentle and generous in his attitude towards us.

Today we did some prayer walking in the area. In the seven by seven block square that is the Tenderloin there are 90 “massage parlours” which are really fronts for human trafficking and prostitution. There are also a couple of “hotels” on every block which are really SROs – Single Room Occupancy hostels – which are always dirty and crowded and often filled with drugs and prostitution. There are people on every kerb, people walking around with all their possessions in a trash (translation: rubbish) bag, people blatantly drunk or high. Praying is difficult here. It’s difficult because you don’t know where to start. It’s difficult because when you do start, your words seem completely insufficient. You feel like you should be down on your knees begging God for the redemption of this place and these lives but also that you should be “doing more”. However, we have to remember that God hears prayers that go unspoken, the very yearning of our hearts. That He is mighty to answer even a prayer that feels faithless and feeble. And, that prayer is a powerful weapon with an awesome God to answer and it is never doing “nothing”.

I really like the Tenderloin. It’s quirky. Never dull. With wonderful people who just happen to be in really awful circumstances. God is undoubtedly at work here. I think I’ll grow to love it. Quickly.