By Brandon HENSLEY
Kim Nguyen remembers those freezing San Francisco nights last summer, the ones cold enough to erase fantasies of migrating west for that warm California weather.
She also remembers the people she met who have to endure nights those on a regular basis, the homeless of San Francisco who make up quite a population in the Bay Area.
But Nguyen’s not the only one who remembers. She was part of 34 young adults who went on a mission trip to San Francisco last summer for Montrose Church, as part of the church’s on-going attitude to get out and serve others. From June 29 to July 3 the church will embark on a bus to San Francisco once again.
The young adults (basically college-age or above) partnered with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and other state and church run organizations in the Tenderloin District, and will do so again. L.A. may have Skid Row, but the Tenderloin area is home to the most homeless people per capita in the country.
But Montrose Church, which also participates in serving the homeless in Pasadena regularly, recognizes homelessness as not something to look down upon.
“A lot of these things have been out of their hands,” said Chris Sikorowski, young adults pastor at Montrose.
YWAM will set the young adults up in a base in the Tenderloin.
“The beauty is you’re staying in the area so you’re able to participate in what life is like there,” Sikorowski said.
The mission trip includes working food lines but also getting a lot of face time with the homeless, where young adults will come out with hot chocolate and talk to them, and just hear their story. It’s called – what else – hot chocolate evangelism.
“[It’s about] just talking with them and hearing their story. It’s not a scary atmosphere at all,” said Sikorowski. “The homeless [there] are used to people coming out and engaging them.”
Sikorowski recalled talking to a man last year from Detroit who was laid off from UPS. He eventually found his way out west, but things didn’t get better.
“They could be your neighbor who just ran a string of bad luck,” Sikorowski said.
Last year, Nguyen headed a project in which she made care packages to take to prostitutes in the area. Besides toiletries, the packages included personal letters and flowers. Nguyen said the women cried and hugged them after receiving the gifts.
“They felt special,” she said. “A lot of the women we talked to, they get treated poorly, and for the first they said, ‘Wow, somebody spent a lot of time making me this one package.’”
Sikorowski grew up in Minnesota and participated in many summer mission trips. He noted over 2,000 references to helping others in the Bible.
“We need to step outside and serve,” he said.
But that can be intimidating for new missionaries. The foothills are a safe place for most. Some members at Montrose Church describe it as living in a bubble, and so when some young adults got off the bus last year they were surprised at what they saw and realized there were no ruby shoes to click three times to get back home.
Angela Azevedo was one of those intimidated ones, at least at first. At one point even one of the homeless came up and told her, partly because of her small size, that she shouldn’t be here and that she should go home. But Azevedo stood her ground, something that surprised even her.
“I sort of had this sense of calm that I was going to be able to go wherever God put me and I felt like that was the first time I ever really heard anything from God,” she said.
“You could tell a lot of the young adults were shocked,” said Nguyen. “I think almost all of them were changed at the end. You could just see the difference from the first day to the last day. That was really cool to see.”
For Sikorowski, it all comes back to a favorite Johny Cash line of his: “You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.”
“Sometimes we put our emphasis on the eternal life that we lose sight of the abundant life and the life that God has planned for us today,” Sikorowski said.
For more information about the mission trip, visit www.montrosechurch.org/youngadults or email firstname.lastname@example.org