In 1987 I was serving the Lord with S.O.S. Ministries in San Francisco, California. I was living in community with other team members in the Mission District on Sycamore St. Everything was rather gritty. (Some would say it was ‘loathsome or gross,’ but that seems unkind.) Wine bottles, mixed with the decor of fresh graffiti and was then blended with the acrid smell of urine. When it got hot, it got really bad. It could make your eyes water.
“Amelia’s”, the biggest lesbian “rock-n-roll” bar west of the Mississippi was a few doors down. A gay thrift store was next to it. Right next to us were heroin addicts; when they overdosed they would start retching in the common “light-well” that we shared with them. The “puking” could get pretty violent, and you had to turn up the radio just to block it out. And we prayed for them.
I had the misfortune (?) of having the front room on the first floor overlooking the street. Nights would bring out all the crazies, the junkies, the girls fighting and throwing bottles at each other. I heard everything. Cursing and yelling and screaming. I had a front row seat to all the nastiness and pain these folks had. Every now and then a police car ventured into this circus, and things got normal– for about five minutes.
I once saw a couple, completely nude and having sex in the middle of the street. And it was only 12 noon. Hmmm. The house we lived in was smack in the middle of what the San Francisco Chronicle called “San Francisco’s Mean Street.” I think there were some close runners-up to us though. But living on Sycamore had its share of memorable moments.
I was driving the ministry truck back from an outreach at Powell and Market (the “cable car turn around.”) We had had a great outreach, almost four hours. It’s a perfect locale, with the subway and the tourists and the street performers. The truck was loaded with sound equipment, and I was taking it back to the S.O.S. house, where we stored it (under lock and key, of course.)
There was an alley directly behind our house. Clarion Alley was the classic inner-city alley. It was very rough and nasty, and if you did venture out you needed to be “prayed up.” It is also the city’s largest bathroom. It seemed the urine smell tried very hard to cancel out the stench of the feces. It was very ripe. (I had also gotten stabbed with a used heroin needle while I was cleaning– but that is another story.)
I was driving along, very happy to be headed home. It had been a very long day, and I was tired. I turned from Mission St. into Clarion Alley. It was dark and pretty chilly. I was thinking about a cup of hot tea. Now Clarion is only a block long. The street was filled with garbage, and as I tooled along there was a big roll of carpeting laying pretty much crossways on the pavement.
I was tired. My first thought was just to drive over it. I think I might even accelerated the truck. All of a sudden I had the strong urge to stop. I slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the cab. Cautiously, I knelt down for a closer look. Rolled up inside was a wino trying to sleep. I’m sure in his mind, the carpeting was a cozy “godsend,” a safe place that was warm and dry place hidden from “bad people.” And I came just inches from killing him.
God intervenes to protect our lives probably much more then we realize. Each person has been created in His image. He loves everyone– as if we were the only one.
“We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.”
Psalm 33:20, NLT
SOS Ministries has reorganized but still is true to the vision it had when I served with them. Website: http://sosmin.com/wordpress/. It is the premier place to develop a gift of evangelism and worship.
SOS Ministries is an inter-denominational, evangelical, street ministry in San Francisco. Their special mission is to reach the people of the San Francisco Bay Area and to train Christians and churches in evangelism helping them reach their own communities for Jesus. Come help share the love of Jesus Christ with the people of San Francisco.
SOS organizes three “Church on the Street” outreaches each month in San Francisco or Berkeley on Saturday afternoon. Local churches bring their worship group and conduct a church service in a downtown park. They also witness three times a month in San Francisco on Friday night.
P.O. Box 27358
Oakland, CA, 94602