BY STEVE BINNQUIST
Every Thursday at our weekly Food Pantry, we serve groceries to over 300 families in the Tenderloin. One Thursday in particular, I was in my office during the food distribution, doing some work. Though my office window peers directly toward the front door of our facility, I didn’t notice what was happening outside. Because of this, I was surprised when my office door flung open to someone asking me to help out with a man who was being difficult.
I came out to see the man lying there at the threshold, blocking anyone from entering or exiting the building. I walked up to him, trying to reason with him, but still he refused to move. I wasn’t sure what to do. I remember bending down to my knees beside him on the floor so I could just be next to him for a while. I waited with him there, as he continued yelling.
The same man would often come into our drop-in center to yell at us about mail and anything else he could think of.
Then something unexpected happened.
One Saturday, I had the opportunity to lead worship for a group of people using our building for an outreach. I remember standing in front of everyone singing about the goodness of God when I saw him. I saw our “mean”, “unsafe”, and “angry” friend standing there. With tears running down his face he began singing every word of the song.
A few days later, a gentler man came in and sat by himself in our drop-in center. At this time, I was a little obsessed with sleight of hand card tricks and had exhausted the staff with my failed attempts at them. As I walked around talking to members of our community, I sheepishly approached this man and asked if he wanted to see a magic trick. “Of course”, he replied. I attempted and failed my new card trick. We spent the next few hours together chatting, laughing, and doing magic tricks. Since then we have spent time working on his guitar, and during this process, I got to celebrate with him as he received housing. He has now become a true friend of mine.
It’s interesting when we give God room, how much He can take people and move in their lives. We think we need to have sophisticated words or great ability, but all we need to do is give people permission, and find ways to connect. When I moved to the Tenderloin in 2004, I thought I was going to create something that would change people. I thought I was going to be important. But what I have found is that letting others into my life and taking the risk to love people who seem like they don’t deserve it? That allows God to move.
This man continues to teach me that God often moves in spite of me, and not because of me. The people in this neighborhood remind me of this. I have learned so much about God and His grace and kindness, and I am so grateful that this is my community.