Archive for August, 2012

It was a quiet Thursday afternoon. Just an ordinary day until my friend who volunteers at SF City Impact invited me to celebrate Donny’s 50th birthday.

Donny is one of 25,160 residents of the Tenderloin district, which is San Francisco’s most outwardly broken and impoverished district. 35 blocks. 0.35 square miles. 48 liquor stores. 14 porn shops. 10,000 homeless people passing through these crime-ridden streets. There are over 4 times as many people per square mile in the Tenderloin as there are on average in the city of San Francisco.

When I first saw Donny’s face, I saw pain. Pain that made him look older than age. I saw a man with dying faith. It appeared as though he had forgotten how to smile, as though his face was only dry because after a thousand tears there were no more tears to cry.

Donny has had a life-long struggle with drugs and alcohol. When I met him, he was confined to a hospital bed due to a head injury he sustained. When I think of what my 50th birthday might be like, I think about being at home with my husband and children, celebrating with family and friends, reminiscing about our past, anticipating our future plans. I picture excitement, laughter, singing, cake and ice cream. God forbid I find myself in a hospital bed, I can’t imagine finding myself there alone, with no one to hold my hand.

But there Donny was on his birthday with no friends and no family to celebrate. No birthday balloons or get well soon cards. No presents. No laughter. No singing. No cake and ice cream. Just the sounds of a distant city and his heart monitor beeping. That is, until City Impact threw him a party. Maybe the world had forgotten him, but God hadn’t.

Donny loves music, especially live music. Bob Dylan is his favorite. My church partners with City Impact, and our worship leaders gave Donny the gift of music for his birthday. Live music. Bob Dylon!

Staff and volunteers from City Impact wrote him cards, brought him balloons and party hats and silly “50″ glasses, and the room was filled with laughter. Someone brought him a birthday donut. He barely had teeth, but he ate that donut like his life depended on it. Someone prayed for him. Someone read him a Psalm. Someone bought him a present. And someone held his hand.

On his 50th birthday, Donny was surrounded by family and friends afterall. My favorite moment was when Tim Ritter, missionary to the Tenderloin with City Impact, gave Donny his own Ipod with a thousand songs on it, including Bob Dylan. Donny had never seen an Ipod before, but he couldn’t stop smiling to himself the moment he heard the music. For the first time I saw peace on his face. Though he’s known pain, he felt grace. God gave him a song for every tear.

Donny’s 50th birthday party is one of the many beautiful stories written because of Jesus’ ministry to the Tenderloin through City Impact. The staff and volunteers of City Impact are educating the children of the Tenderloin, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely, and making disciples. (To find out how visit sfcityimpact.com)

Their vision is also to plant a church in each apartment building through “Adopt a Building.” My church has adopted a building called the New Grand, where we are seeking needs to meet and making friends and disciples along the way.

My personal vision is to serve as a resident storyteller. With their permission I will be sharing their stories on witnessSF.org, which is a collection of testimonies told by residents of San Francisco (soon to include residents of the Tenderloin). I am hopeful that through friends made and stories shared, the greater story of the Gospel will be told, and people who have known great pain will know even greater grace.

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