Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Serving Jesus in the Bay Area

I spent the past week in San Francisco with a group from my church serving with an organization called CSM (Center for Student Missions). It was quite enjoyable. The end. Haha, but seriously, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I am so thankful that I had such a wonderful opportunity to serve others. The trip truly opened my eyes (both physically and spiritually) to a whole new world and I can't lie, I love it! San Francisco is a very unique city, and we were very fortunate to experience it in a way most people don't get a chance to. We were also very lucky with CSM; the staff and particularly our leader McKenzie were so filled with faith and shared our goals on this trip. Below is a day by day description of our ministry in the city...
Day 1 (Monday, June 30)
Our first whole day in the city was spent at the Salvation Army Mission Corp (a.k.a. a kid's camp in the Mission district of San Fran). The morning started off with a kick; I dressed up as Cooper the Dog! The second poor Cooper stepped onto the stage, he was mobbed by excited children. After nearly having his tail ripped off, Cooper danced around nervously. Soon after he walked around blindly (the suit greatly restricted my vision) delivering high-5s to the screaming crowd. Unfortunately, one child was able to peer up into the suit, discovering that Cooper was "a fake!" Before I knew it the excited children turned into a dangerous riot, demanding that the impostor be revealed! It took several long minutes to calm the kids down before Cooper and his gang were able to deliver the closing prayer...
We spent the late morning and afternoon at Dolores Park a few blocks away with the kids. On the way there, a young man at the ripe age of six be-friended. Isaac was his name, and he attends the camp every day. What surprised me the most was his maturity and wisdom... Sure he enjoyed everything that every six year old does, swinging, etc. But his understanding of social problems was far more complex than that of any other six year old I had met. On several occasions he stopped walking, and pointed out a homeless man or other struggling person and asked if we could say a prayer for them. I was amazed that he felt so much true compassion for those less fortunate than him; which was amplified by his own poor economic condition. On a lighter note, we enjoyed some delicious thai food that evening....
Day 2 (July 1)
The second day of our glorious journey began at St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Oakland, just across the bay. We helped to serve lunch for the local homeless folk, my job was handing out milk! People were allowed to come through the line three times during the two hour period, but that wasn't always enforced very well... A man in a plum jump suit came through at least six times, each time getting several chocolate milks. He liked singing very much, and was very personable to say the least... Fran, a volunteer at the center was also very personable sharing jokes every few seconds. We got the chance to eat lunch with some of the people we were serving, so I sat down next to a middle aged man who was enjoying his chocolate cake very much. We swapped our hometowns, and for the rest of the meal he questioned me about the Great Salt Lake. What does it smell like? My buddy tells me you can float 'cause of the salt, is that true? So you can't float? Dang it, I want to float! Are you sure? Are the fish good? No fish?!
After lunch we drove over to Berkeley to do an activity CSM likes to call "Meet a Need" Essentially, we are given twenty dollars as a group to meet a need of one or more persons in the area. So, we went to People's Park and started to talk to some of the people living in the park about needs in the area. During this time we handed out five dollar gift cards to Subway that we had brought with us. This was so rewarding; the looks of surprise and deep gratitude along with the priceless stories we heard from these people were truly touching. During this activity, we came across a man named Ken who had lived in the park for two years after he became diagnosed with AIDS. He had served in the Air Force for several years in the seventies, and had loads of interesting stories. He shared with us that he would love to go to a movie, just to get inside for a few hours for a change, so we bought him two movie tickets with the twenty dollars. As tears were pouring out of his eyes he told has that he was so blessed by the Lord to have met us and couldn't word his gratitude. The Lord blessed me in several ways through this experience as well. Prior to this trip I viewed the homeless as a bunch of druggies sitting in a park. I am deeply ashamed that I felt something so horrible, and I am so thankful that my eyes have been opened. Each person we met was overflowing with love and stories, and even if though some of them did drugs in the past or present, it didn't make them any less of a person. Secondly, I saw how much my little actions can affect others... Just sitting there and being present with Ken brought tears to his eyes; as human beings I believe we have a responsibility to be with others in their time of need.
After leaving the park we walked around the UC Berkeley campus, it was so beautiful, and seemed like a great institution... That night we finished up at delicious Indian restaurant, and filled our bellies with curry in preparation for another day in the city by the bay...
Day 3 (July 2)
On the 2nd we went to a church/food-giving out place in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin is a neighborhood in downtown SF, and is considered the most dangerous place in the Bay Area due to the prevalence of drugs. Even so, it was a great experience, and I didn't feel threatened or in danger at all. Well, unless you count bacteria and mold as dangerous. The kitchen was FILTHY!! Unfortunately things weren't quite so organized at this site, and things were messy, and the staff had questionable practices.... Still, they were helping out the community, and had their hearts in their work. That night we had a few hours to do whatever we liked, so that meant CHOCOLATE BABY!!!
Day 4 (July 3)
We went to the Alameda County Food Bank in Oakland to help with food processing, it was very, er, entertaining. For about three hours we bagged four four TONS of oranges. Four tons. Think of a 15'x5'x10' room filled to the brim with oranges. Trust me, its a lot. But once again, it was very pleasurable to help out the food bank, the staff were excellent and very informative. That afternoon we traveled around lower SF to experience a half-day of homelessness. We had two dollars a piece to but lunch, then we had to get from downtown to our church... It was very challenging, but it definitely showed us how difficult it is to be homeless, and yet we found many making the best of their situation.
Day 5 (July 4!)
On the fourth of July, we went to Laguana Honda Hospital to help with the dementia ward. The elderly we served were so funny, and surprisingly good at dancing! Turn on a little music and they would spring out of their chairs! But the highlight of the day was bingo... These people LOVE bingo. LOVE it. Apparently we were taking to long to set up, so they started yelling at us to "Speed up!" Finally Eryn fired up the bingo machine and soon the hall was filled with cries of joy and competition... For lunch we went to a high up on a hill to try to escape the fog, but we just ended up with this cool picture.
Due to the intense fog, we were unable to watch fireworks. So instead, we went to Chinatown! Very patriotic, eh?
-Brad, CSM San Fran Bay Area trip participant

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