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.
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