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Hope in the Heart of San Francisco

A few weeks ago, Michelle and I had the opportunity to be with Christian publisher David C. Cook in the heart of San Francisco to see the work of one of their authors, Roger Huang, who has been serving the neediest areas of the city for the past 29 years. His story stirred us in profound ways. 

We got to experience this along with a few friends, and my buddy Mark Forrester shares about our experience below:

Every day, more than 100 children attend school next to a sex club. The city even celebrates this sex club with a commemorative plaque. Meanwhile, police openly carry AK-47s while watching drug deals in plain sight.There is a palpable sense of despair here. But this isn’t a third-world country – this is San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

The Tenderloin district is less than a square mile in size, but it has 37,000 residents in over 250 apartment buildings. Roger Huang, author of Chasing God and founder and executive development director of San Francisco City Impact, has been dedicated to reaching this square mile for 29 years. David C. Cook recently published his story, and I had the opportunity to follow him for a weekend to see what life’s like in the Tenderloin.

As we step out of the car in front of the school, a condom floats by. There’s no hiding the filth here. This is life in the Tenderloin.

We walk inside the building that Huang purchased years ago to be a school and hub for the amazing ministry he’s leading in this dark district. There’s a large map of the community towers over the boardroom table. There’s no mistake about their mission: their heart is in the Tenderloin. Eighteen bright blue sticky notes mark where outreach teams are invested this week, andtheir goal is to turn this entire map blue.

I head  to the rooms at the Fairfax to distribute food donations from Trader Joe’s. The hallways are littered with trash and used syringes. Each room isn’t much bigger than the mattress it contains, and each level shares a toilet and a shower—which is nothing more than a pipe coming out of a wall.

Shea has her room completely full of people. They’re very excited about the canned soup we brought. It’s “the good stuff,” they say. Shea’s most recent baby was born this week. Five days old. He’s still at the hospital. She doesn’t know what he looks like. His father is in jail. She’s overcome with emotion as the team from San Francisco City Impact offers her transportation and a warm meal (she doesn’t have an oven). Crying, Shea hides behind a curtain.

Mustafa wants prayer. He’s frail and elderly, donning a joint behind his ear. His prayer request is simple: he doesn’t want to die in the Fairfax. Not tonight.

Shorty answers the door with his transgender companion on his bed. “There’s nothing tender about the Tenderloin,” he says. He’s right. Just before we pray with Shorty and Bianca, we notice a placid hand protruding from the closet door. “Who’s in your closet?” asks Christian Huang, City Impact’s new executive director. A pit forms in our stomachs. Another transgender person is in the closet with a Yorkie. “She passed out in the closet. She’ll be fine,” Shorty says.

There’s no doubt a weekend in the Tenderloin can change your perspective. But 29 years in the Tenderloin can change the heart of a city.

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Matt Brown (@evangelistmatt) is an evangelist, author of Awakening and founder of Think Eternity. He and his wife Michelle are impacting millions of people with the gospel each year through live events and online. They also minister to more than a million followers on social media daily.