The Tenderloin

This week I had the privilege to be part of a 4-day “Church Intensive” with We Are Church, the church-planting network founded by Francis Chan in San Francisco, California. We learned first-hand the heart behind their ministry, the ‘why’ behind their methodology, and caught a powerful vision of what the church can and should be in our communities. The following is one story from my time with them.

On Tuesday afternoon our cohort took a break from the “classroom” and went two-by-two into the The Tenderloin neighborhood in downtown San Francisco. Here, we ventured into what seemed like the 1920’s locked in time with the homeless and the destitute lining the blocks, high on drugs and alcohol, tucked away in sleeping bags, and open defecation in the streets. I was overwhelmed by the widespread suffering, the systemic affects of brokenness and sin, and the oppression of Satan’s grip on this place. I’ve encountered similar scenes in the streets of Chicago, but never to this concentration or magnitude.

The moment we stepped out of the car, there was a man laying on the sidewalk, drunk and unable to walk. He managed to pick himself up but stumbled over again. Praise the Lord we were there to pick him up and offer our help. Angad, one of our teammates, spoke with him as he and another propped him up on his shoulder. The man was from Pakistan and spoke in Hindi with Angad, his native language. As Angad and his friend Ben walked him to the hospital (seven blocks up hill) they ministered to the man and shared the gospel with him.

The rest of us began to walk the streets, asking the Spirit to lead us from one person to the next. We talked and prayed with many. Initially, all I could do was pray against Satan and the demonic oppression that I had found myself in the midst of. Nearly everyone we started conversations with were friendly, receiving, and willing to talk, but they were most often high and somewhat incoherent. We always prayed with each person and shared the hope of Jesus with them.

Peter (a pastor with We Are Church) and Brad speak with a man who lives in The Tenderloin.

At one point, Steven (one of the pastors in training with We Are Church) and I were led to a concentration of people on one of the blocks in The Tenderloin. The smell of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, unrine, and feces filled the air. Our attention was caught by a woman who was wearing a brightly colored rosary around her neck. She saw us coming, dropped her eyes, and quickly clenched something into the palm of her right hand. Her name was Mary. She spoke with us and claimed to know Jesus, but told us she is unable “to forgive herself for all the things I’ve done”. We shared the truth of the gospel with her, telling her that Jesus is the one who forgives us and not to believe the lie that we must somehow forgive ourselves before turning to God. She warmed up to us, relaxing, and eventually exposed the pipe lined with cocaine in it that she had been clenching in her fist. Steven and I told Mary that Jesus desires to have a relationship with her and to set her free from her addictions. We then boldly prayed over her, asking Jesus to break her free from the chains of oppression. As Mary’s eyes filled with tears, I sensed the presence of God with us, protecting us and extending light and love to Mary among the depths of darkness that she was enslaved to.

I wish I could say that Mary’s life was transformed in that moment, but sadly, the pipe remained in her hand despite our urging for her to lay it down. As we said our goodbyes to Mary and extended a blessing over her, we stood up and began to slowly walk away. Almost immediately, a man stumbled behind us dropping a nearly full bottle of rum at Mary’s feet with the glass shattering and the cheap liquor spilling across the sidewalk and into the nearby drain. I smiled, seeing in that moment the supernatural work of God fighting for Mary and that man, disrupting them in their sin and giving them the opportunity to be set free from their prison. I continue to pray they would choose the way of Jesus.

Of all those we spoke to, no lives appeared to be immediately changed on Tuesday afternoon, but ours certainly were. Our obedience to sharing the light and life of Jesus was more important that day, leaving us with a heavy and humbled heart for the lost and the poor in spirit.

By the Cross and for the Kingdom,
Pastor Matt

Our team debrief in a corner donut shop in downtown San Francisco.

2 thoughts on “The Tenderloin

  1. I think Chan has so much to teach churches and leaders today, both those operating within traditional church structures as well as those serving in ecclesiae outside of traditional structures. Glad you had the opportunity to visit.

    1. Yes, I learned a lot from our experience with Chan and his leaders. At the heart of all they do is “believing and doing all the Word of God says”, this includes going to the alleyways inviting the poor, lame, and the sick. I was deeply challenged and reminded of this important call of the Kingdom.

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