Journey to Another World - My Family Travels

         Just four hours north of my hometown is one square mile that could very well exist in another world.   When I arrived alongside my youth ministry in this other world, in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, I had no idea what to expect. We were scheduled to help City Impact Rescue Mission in their efforts for one week, helping to cook, serve and deliver meals for the homeless of the area. The Tenderloin is an enigma; in just one square mile live 30,000 people. These people, per capita, not only represent one of the highest rates of crime, prostitution, and violence, but also of elderly, homeless and schoolchildren, in the nation.  As I walked out of the bus, my first thought arose: How am I going to do anything of importance in a place like this? I would soon find out.

          Throughout the week, I was assigned an array of tasks with the other members of my team. We handed out potato chips on the street, transported plywood boards and concrete blocks at a construction site, and knocked on apartment doors to offer hot meals. From dawn to dusk, it seemed, we were working, serving, cleaning and interacting with the people on the street. At the beginning of the trip, I wondered how our one week of service would make any difference to an area so devastated by poverty, addiction and hopelessness, but the more I worked, I realized that our efforts not only made an impact within the Tenderloin, but within ourselves. With every task I performed, whether it directly benefitted a person on the street or not, I began to see the area for what it really was – one square mile, not of addicts, not of criminals, but of ordinary people.

                        The rest of society sees these ordinary people on the street, and they avert their eyes. Many times, they assume the worst and walk by, without so much as a greeting or a friendly glance. Thus, these people are refused the very thing that all human beings wish for and deserve – to be treated with dignity. Many are in the situation they are in, without a home, through no fault of their own. It is true, of course, that there are many who have suffered the same fate because of their own choices, but unless they are treated as individuals capable of turning their lives around, they may never gather the courage to try. As the week went on, the vital importance of showing respect, of treating each person as someone of value, transformed how I viewed my work.
                          My voice was lost at a children’s park function, but what mattered was the fact that twenty children on the block experienced a bounce house for the first time. My hands were blistered hammering nails, but what mattered was that soon, the mission would have a new headquarters from which to serve. My feet ached as I walked down the block to hand out chips, but what mattered was that I was able to give a man something to eat, and maybe be the first person in a long while to put a hand on his shoulder and ask him his name. My youth ministry was not able to reach everyone in the Tenderloin District, but we were able to show its inhabitants that help—and hope—was available to them. As our bus pulled away from City Impact, I knew that I had helped to do something of importance. One thing I knew: love and respect move mountains, even in other worlds.  


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