BY LAINA HUMBLES
My name is Laina, and I work with Because Justice Matters (BJM). We build pathways to brighter futures for women and girls in urban communities, more specifically, in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. This summer, I had the opportunity to do just this with some of the girls from our dance program. Weekly at The Tribe, an initiative that uses dance to model leadership development, we spent time talking about how to love our neighbors. This looked like asking ourselves what we love about the Tenderloin, and how we would like to see it change. Fueled by this conversation, another BJM staff member and myself were able to put this into practice through doing a short outreach program through YWAM’s ministry Mission Adventures.
For 3 days this summer, we brought three bright eyed middle school girls, born and raised in the Tenderloin, to love their neighborhood through Mission Adventures. We walked and prayed through streets we have passed by countless times without thought, and asked God to help us see these places through His eyes. Sticky sidewalks and rickety old motels revealed themselves as a tapestry of generations seeking better lives -- we saw it in the cafeterias with their doors long closed, the corner stores started by someone’s grandfather, the rich history of hotels converted to SROs to provide a shelter to those in need. We distributed bread and vegetables to our neighbors at the weekly Food Pantry. We shared steaming hot chocolate with those experiencing the evening chill of the streets.
On a prayer walk one evening, we found ourselves at a mural depicting the street corner we were standing on — past, present, and what the artist hoped would be the future. The past, greyed with the disappointment of lost dreams, pierced by the resilient melodies of a lone saxophone player. The present, a textile of buoyancy; individuals, families, navigating the bespattered Tenderloin sidewalks. The future, awash with color, laughter, promises of affordable housing, and whimsical gardens and playgrounds for the children. One of the girls commented almost to herself, while looking at the future of that street corner saying, “It looks so safe.”
The reality is that she, a thirteen year old growing up in the inner city of San Francisco, would be more impacted by the safety personified in that mural than most of us. She is the future, and the future as we know it can look so frightening and uncertain at times. The Mission Adventures Program gave these girls the space to dream about a hopeful future for the Tenderloin, and to find their own voice in the story God is writing about this wild, beautiful place. Here, they saw a new way to love your neighbor as yourself. These girls finished the week with a greater understanding of God’s heart for our neighborhood, and the tools to invite their friends and family to be a part of this great love that God has displayed.
Love looks like asking questions before making assumptions. Love looks like nourishing a dream that’s bigger than you yourself can accomplish. Love looks like giving away a pair of warm socks on a windy evening.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37