Who is the Stranger? My Tenderloin Journey

Reflections on My Tenderloin Journey
by JGong (6/12/15) 

I began this journey to the Tenderloin because I received a quiet nudge from God (an email invitation) to seek how to serve the Poor.
It turns out I received an invitation from God to dine with Him at the table, to enjoy a good meal or two and conversations about the last Golden State Warriors playoff game, get a rave restaurant review about a pizzeria in SOMA, and learn about the Okinawa coral diet.  And an invitation from God to meet Tim, jobless the last two years because of illness and age 52, yet stoic and interested in my volunteer work in the dining room. And God brought Michael to the table too

Michael was laid off from construction work six years ago. Yes, he is hooked up with EDD. He says,I'd like to do line cooking, but you know I'm 56.  He shares this with a smile, without a hint of anger, frustration, or even resignation. It just is. He yearns to see his family in Tucson.  On Sundays he goes to Mass- mostly at St. Ignatius or St. Dominic's, not so much at St. Boniface.  I ask him if he is on the streets. He is grateful because he just got a 30-day stay at an SRO. I ask what will happen at the end of the 30 days. He shrugs his shoulders, smiles,I will have to reapply. My break is over and I must leave our conversation. Michael reaches out and takes my hands God bless you,he says with a warm smile. Thank you for helping in the dining room.

While I was worrying about Michael's likely return to the streets, he was in the holiness of the present moment, praying for me. Looking back, I see now that Michael had nothing in the eyes of the world but he had everything in the eyes of God because of simple faith and trust in God. And he offered me all that he hadhis faithand that wonderful smile.

For me the poor have become more than an abstraction of unfortunate individuals who fit into categories: drug addict, mental ill, elderly poor, working poor, poor families. I know I can never fully understand their worries, pain, suffering and hardships. But I see them more fully now. I see their names (Tim, Joseph, Douglas, Christina, Michael) - each with a history, family, passions, interests, with their own personal yearnings and hopes.  In the words of Maria at St. Anthonys,  I see with my heart “, broken over and over again by their brokenness. And now I know more strongly that I am called to be in relationship with them, as I am called to be with everyone - we are all made in Gods image - we are all children of God.

I see more clearly that serving the Poor is only half of the equation, that God desires the Poor to evangelize us, to bring us, ME, in closer relationship to Him - to teach us to choose to let go - of all the keeps us separated from Him (whether stuff, distractions, our egos or need to be in charge) and to let God be at the very center of our lives, MY life. And for me to empty myself so that I may completely trust and depend upon Him for everything, like the birds in the air and the lilies in the field like Michael  - so as to embrace the unbearable lightness of being one with God.

It was a tremendous blessing to share my Tenderloin Immersion with my fellow travelers. They were each so Faith-filled in their own unique path to following Christ's way. We shared great laughter and shed not a few silent tears for the brokenness we encountered.

I know this experience and fellowship have led to the planting of a few mustard seeds, but I do not know what all will grow from them. This is a mystery that will unfold in God's own time. But I am now nudged into deeper prayer, a closer examination of conscience and discernment of how I am meant to serve the Poor. For the time being, God is asking me to bear witness for Michael and all the others I encountered this week, to give them a voice and help others in my home, parish and community to see them too, to share my relationship with them and the realities of poverty, to teach the meaning of safe sleepand street age.  I will continue to simplify my life to make more room for God. Perhaps the mustard seeds will take me into more immersion programs and social justice ministry. I see the homeless invited through the open doors of St. Boniface and I too am invited in.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us to reach out and help the stranger in need, to overcome our fear, discomfort, and resistance to the unfamiliar. It turned out that in the Tenderloin I was the stranger who received the help and grace of the Good Samaritans of the Streets

Pace e Bene
Jackie Gong

Jackie and 14 others participated in a Maryknoll Mission Immersion Trip to the Tenderloin in June 2015.  Over the course of a full week they worked at St. Anthony Foundation during the mornings and early afternoons and participated in a retreat at the Maryknoll Mission House in the afternoons and evenings.