The Tenderloin district covers a fifty square block radius. It is one of the most densely impoverished, high crime neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Each year during high school I went there on week-long mission trips with Lake Avenue Church (Pasadena CA).
At night the streets are lined up with people cuddled in their sleeping bags, because these streets are where they live. Prostitution, drugs, crime, child trafficking and mental illness flood this neighborhood. It only took a few minutes in the Tenderloin to recognize the reality of the people that resided there.
As I spent my first week interacting with its inhabitants I was filled with grief, hopelessness and fear.
As someone who had grown up in the church and who had experienced a very privileged life, I didn’t know how to respond to what I saw. People were constantly talking to themselves, yelling, cursing and often delusional of where they were or who they were.
It wasn’t enough for me to simply feel sorry for them, pray for them, or tell them that I loved them. I wanted to do more. Studying the Gospels with my new friends fell heavy on my heart and mind.
How did the message and good news of Christ apply to the people in the Tenderloin? How might I be involved in the work God was already doing to bring mercy and reconciliation to the brokenness I witnessed?
It was then that I knew I had the spiritual gift of mercy-showing. I was drawn towards the hurt and circumstances my friends in the Tenderloin were experiencing.
I pushed myself to not just sympathize with them, but to empathize with them. God didn’t just feel for us, he took the action to come down to this world and feel with us, through his son Jesus.
The good news of Christ isn’t only that he died for our sins, but that he rose again, and offers a new life.
We get a glimpse into that new life through Jesus’ interactions and engagement with people in their messy and complex lives.
And so I began to do just that with those who were the most marginalized in my community in Pasadena, California. I shared meals and listened to stories. As I grew older and heard more stories from my friends on the street I began attending community development conferences. I realized that there were many systemic issues that effected my friends on the street.
Homelessness wasn’t simply a materialistic issue, but it was a mental health issue, a substance abuse issue and a spiritual issue. I became interested in how these intersected. It led me to pursue undergraduate work in Neurobiology and Physiology to better understand how physiology can often lead people into homelessness or even prevent them from leaving it.
After my studies I came to the realization that the issue of homelessness is multifaceted. It has social, physical, behavioral and spiritual elements to it. Unless we approach it holistically, people will fall through one of these avenues back into homelessness.
Recently, I began working with the Los Angeles County Public Health Department in their Substance Abuse Prevention and Control Department. I participate in public health research and have hopes to pursue graduate work in Public Health.
I am constantly needing to remind myself that this journey isn’t about me. I often get caught up in my work and think about how I can fix the issue of homelessness.
I want to use my gifts to teach and lead others to be effective disciples in this world. But too often, I fall short. I hope I can be effective in all of the work I do and the ways in which I lead others to think about the things God has placed on my heart.
I remember that my hope is not found in my accomplishments, but my hope is found in the victory of Christ shedding his blood for everyone, and the new life he offers with his resurrection.
If you are passionate about issues regarding homelessness or other community development topics, I would love to connect with you and share ideas, stories and practices! Rafiknwahbi@gmail.com
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Your Gifts: Spiritual Gifts Discovery
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