The pimp tugged on his sagging pants, revealing a 500 dollar Louis Vuitton belt as he politely held the door for me. A thick wad of 100 dollar bills filled his fist and he made no move to conceal it.
The strung-out woman across the street ranted and raged into a cell phone as she spun around in circles.
Police cars and trucks could be seen all over the streets, parked by the side of the road, not one officer to be found.
The Tenderloin District of San Francisco is described as having a “seedy character and reputation for crime” which is characterized by squalid conditions, homelessness, crime, illegal drug trade, prostitution, liquor stores, and strip clubs. This area is known for its violent street crime including robbery, aggravated assault, extortion, murder for hire, and gang influence.
And much of it happens in broad daylight.
I pushed my stroller with our 3 and 2 year-old sons inside and held the hand of our 6 year-old as we walked down the filthy street. We side-stepped paper with human waste laying in the gutter, and we bundled up against the whistling chill working against us as we walked down the block and made our way to church.
Once inside the modest building, we sat down among the diverse crowd. A toothless woman-a recovering addict, rushed over to help us with our baby. She swooped him up saying, “When I was a new mom, it was so hard to have a minute to myself. Let me help you with him so you can listen to God’s Word.”
I thought we were there to help them. To serve her.
A few minutes into the message and the leadership announced that they were going to be sponsoring another missionary bringing their total up to 21 families they offer financial assistance to. This small ragtag group of what the world would call “insignificant” or “hopeless” was doing something significant. Something hopeful. We listened to a brief interview with the new missionary working in central Arkansas. And then they took an offering for him.
The young man from Nigeria went forward. The homeless man in the middle row went forward. The clean cut college student went forward. My blonde-haired and blue-eyed 6 year old went forward.
I am in no hurry to expose my kids to the underbelly of the world. My first instinct is to protect my kids. I wouldn’t hesitate for a fraction of a second to give my life for theirs. And I pray carefully about what to expose them to and what not to place in their hearts and minds.
But I also want them to know that our suburban life is not all there is in the world. I want them to see with their own eyes that they have much and that to whom much is given, much will be required. I want them to know that they are a light and that their light is not meant to be hid under a bushel or to illuminate only Main Street.
And so we drove 6 hours to San Francisco on business but also with the goal to show our kids a bit of how many people in our world struggle to survive day by day. We don’t have to trek 6 hours, and you probably don’t either. We can drive 25 minutes into the heart of Los Angeles and find it too.
God says that we will always have the poor with us. We can be overwhelmed by the crime and addiction and poverty around us. We can fear it.
Or, we can do for one what we wish we could do for many.
I’m not willing to talk about it abstractly with my young children. God doesn’t say “go” with an age limit. He simply asks, “Who will go for me?” Too often, we don’t raise our hands. Too often, we ignore the question. And too often we miss the blessing.
The pimp and prostitute, or the immigrant without a job, or the disabled veteran and the teen born into poverty-they aren’t making their way to my suburb very often. And certainly, God doesn’t need me to reach them. He’s bigger than that. But He does use any who are willing. He simply wants to know if our family is truly willing.
Our boys didn’t bat an eye or shrug away from the people they saw that day. They saw them with unbiased eyes. They didn’t ask us to walk on the other side of the street or plug their noses at the pungent smells around us.
They greeted people, smiled at them, passed out high-fives to folks lumbering by, and endured a lot of cheek pinching. They saw them as Jesus does. People. People God loves. People like themselves.
As a mother, I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience. I can teach my kids all day long about the verses in the Bible where God tells us to spend ourselves on others, to have compassion, to help the poor, to go into all the world and share the gospel. Or I can take them myself. I can put them in the car and drive downtown. We can take bottled water and Living Water.
But we always return with more than we left with.
UPDATE: Here is the movie trailer video we took of the documentary movie we were filming of City Impact's Adopt-A-Building ministry that our former pastor, Francis Chan was helping to lead in San Francisco!
YOUR TURN! What have you done as a family that is outside your comfort zone in order to serve God and model the Fruit of the Spirit? What fears do you have about taking your kids into these kinds of areas?
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