One of the requirements for the apprenticeship that Jenifer and I are apart of here in San Diego is that we go around to some specific places in town and just listen and take in what is happening here. As we go we are to ask ourselves some questions regarding what we are experiencing. We were to ask ourselves:
- What do you see, smell, and hear in this place?
- How does walking through this environment make you feel and what are some of the first thoughts and emotions that came to you when you entered this space?
- How has the story of this place affected the story and identity of San Diego?
- What kinds of people are here?
- Do you feel comfortable in this environment? And Why?
- What role does this place play in the current narrative of our city?
- What kind of story is this place telling?
A little over two weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit one of the homeless food kitchens here in San Diego. It is planted in one of the “roughest” parts of town. My initial thought was, “ok, I’ve done this before, we’ll probably just go and serve some food for breakfast.” But then, I was corrected; nope, we’re going to partake in a meal at the kitchen. Needless to say for both Jenifer and I discomfort really set in and we both were kind of nervous about the whole thing. And so, I wanted to share with you Jenifer’s reflection of our experience at God’s Extended Hand:
“What a stretch outside of our comfort zone this was. Overall the experience was both sweet and uncomfortable. We were definitely feeling the apprehension of going to place that “isn’t for us” and intruding on what feels like a completely different culture. After we parked and walked into this new space, we immediately felt out of place and uncertain about how to navigate the room we had just entered. Whilst stepping deeper into the room, we were soon greeted by friendly faces gushing over Emerson. We talked babies and the impending arrival of a couple’s son, due just 19 days from now. It was almost a relief to have a conversation so quickly in this new environment. After we found our seats, we found ourselves sitting among several single men who were all very quiet, but they too also seemed to enjoy watching Emerson. We soon learned that there would be a “service” before breakfast would be served, which gave us even more time to soak in this space. It was a warm and inviting place but it was also clear that there were rules to follow and an order to how this place flowed. There was much prayer, clapping in appreciation both for the cooks and for all that God has done for us, and several ‘Amens’ and ‘Hallelujahs’ shared during the service time. It was evident that Jesus was in this place. The meal was mostly quiet around us but Jeff did have a great conversation with two young men, Cliff and Gary. Gary shared how tolerant and positive San Diego is of the homeless and how he felt responsible to conduct himself well in response to the kindness shown him. Twice the family we had first met when we walked in reached out to take care of me, first making sure I was served a plate since I had a child and second, giving me a baby snack that was being handed out. We felt very blessed and even cared for in the midst of being in such a different place. Not once were we treated differently or like we didn’t belong. We were welcomed and embraced and our host even invited us back this afternoon.”
It’s funny to me (Jeff) how easily we set up preconceived borders, boundaries, and ideas of the way things are without even an afterthought. What I mean by that is, I myself, and I think “we” had thought that this homeless food kitchen would be a certain way; that we wouldn’t belong there or that we don’t actually “need” anything, or even thinking that we aren’t “like” that group of people. When the reality is we were more accepted and more invited into that space than many other places we often find ourselves in. It reminds me of Colossians 3 and how Paul so well reminds the Colossians and us that in God’s kingdom there are no distinctions – we are all loved, cherished and accepted by the King. God taught us a valuable lesson that day and reminded us just how precious the reality is that we live out each day in this world as image bearers. As image bearers of God himself, we have value and a great deal at that! I need to see people as image bearers, not as rich and poor, nice or mean, Caucasian or Latino. We were accepted as is, no questions asked, the awkwardness was on our part – not theirs. If we are going to live lives on mission it has to start by seeing people as God sees them…no questions asked. That’s a heart issue we need to deal with. How do I see people and how do I love them well? We were really thankful for that humbling experience that Saturday morning at God’s Extended Hand.