My average spring break experience usually consists of the following: extensive yard work and extensive laying on the floor thinking of what to do with this strange new feeling called free time. To shake things up a bit, I applied to be a part of Urban Excursion San Francisco, a five-day mission trip organized by the Office of Spiritual Life. I only briefly heard about the trip during FOCUS leader training last semester. Leading into this semester, all I could remember was “fun trip over spring break to San Francisco,” and that was enough for me to apply. I was accepted and met the team over a period of three training nights. There were 10 students and two leaders, Julie Dobbins and Kris Huffman, and training consisted mainly of getting to know each other. Strangely enough, I still had no idea what we were going to do in San Francisco by the time we packed up the cars and left. Something about homeless ministry.
To start things off right, we left in two Chevy Suburbans with plenty of room and sour gummy worms to keep us happy during the eight-hour journey to the Bay Area. I still didn’t know the team that well so this was perfect time to ask random questions and laugh with each other. The good vibes carried us through the drive, as did the promise of an In-n-out stop for dinner. The team stayed at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, which is conveniently located just across the bridge out of the city. The campus sits on forested hills with a beautiful view of the water and city in the distance. We explored the hills the first night and felt excited to finally get in the city.
The next day we drove to Golden Gate Park where large numbers of homeless people congregate in the day. We pair up and walked around the park talking to and praying for anyone who would let us. I paired up with Kris, and we ended up talking to one man for the entire three hours. We met him on a street corner, where he held a cardboard sign asking for cigarettes and beer. He was friendly and talkative, but right away he began with his ideas of spiritual energies and chakras and what not. His traveling name was even Taro because he was a tarot card reader. We bought him lunch at McDonald’s and talked for hours about our understanding of God and the scriptures, but he always jumped back to his idea of feeling for the answers and mixing various religions into one. I’ve never met someone so spiritual in the wrong way. He was open, however, to what we had to say, and we at least prayed for him that he would find the truth. The whole thing was a bit discouraging at first but also revealed how lost people can be. Other groups had similar experiences in the park, which was a great challenge for our own faith.
The following days we met all kinds of people, those choosing to live on the streets and those recently unemployed or recovering from addictions. I could write pages about the people we met, but I’ll at least highlight the ministries being done there to help out. We visited Interface SF on Sunday. Interface is a new church plant involving CBU graduates, which is planning to officially launch a community center in Golden Gate Park by September. The next day we partnered with them to volunteer at Family Home, an organization that provides free housing for families with terminally ill children who need care in the local hospitals. The final day we worked in one of the poorest districts, the Tenderloin, with City Impact, which offers multiple services for the homeless and needy. When we arrived, there were already teams from Vangaurd, Oklahoma Christian University and Colorado State University, all volunteering for the week. We helped prepare food, set up and tear down for services, and spoke to and prayed for those in need. In the afternoon, we packed lunches and handed them out from door to door at a low-income apartment building. The organization does these kinds of things every day, which is incredible. There is always someone else around that needs help, too.
Those five days went by fast, and our team grew close together in those shared experiences. We saw a lot of the city, as well, which made it even harder to leave.
There is so much need in the city. Still, we left with a new understanding of just how important it is to be involved in these programs. Urban Excursion was an eye opener for me as to what I can do to help. I’m definitely getting involved in trips to come.