July 8, 2014– Tuesday was our second day in the TL but our first full day of service. I was sent to work in City Impact’s thrift store in the morning then to the Rescue Mission, a place of worship and meal service for the homeless, in the afternoon.
I quickly realized just how out of my comfort zone the week was going to be. have always had a thing against thrift stores. Something about them just gives me the yucks. I don’t like the idea of touching clothes that have been worn by someone I don’t know. Anything could’ve happened in them and I’d probably never know! It’s a selfish, privileged viewpoint of mine… I realize that. And serving in the thrift shop immediately forced me to push those feelings aside and serve joyfully… otherwise be really unhappy. Thankfully, I chose the former. God truly humbled me in those three hours as I sorted clothes.
The afternoon in the Rescue Mission consisted of sitting in on a Bible study of primarily homeless men. It was intriguing to watch these individuals mull through the Bible, fascinating to hear their take on each verse, humbling to realize how profound their understandings were in comparison to my own. As soon as the study ended, we began meal preparation, headed into a time of worship and a sermon, then we served dinner to the service attendees. We were encouraged to sit and talk with these people, get to know them, their lives, their circumstances, their faiths.
I didn’t write too much in my journal that day as we hardly had any individual time. After my time at the Rescue Mission and a dinner of my own, we split into teams and headed out for evening street ministry. City Impact receives all their food by donation… and let’s just say Frito Lay has been extra charitable. City Impact has warehouses filled with boxes of various chips: Doritos, Cheetos, you name it and they got it. So, we took these chips to the street as a conversation starter with the people of the Tenderloin. It’s amazing how people’s faces light up when they’re offered a bag of chips, how food is such a powerful way of displaying love and care for another person.
I spoke with some truly interesting people: some very open to talking about God and the gospel message, confessing their need for prayer; others, not as open and simply interested in a bag of spicy Doritos.
I saw several drug deals out in the open, spoke to one man who had a pill bottle full of marijuana in his hand and another who held his hypodermic needle during our conversations. There were pools of urine and even smeared feces (likely from a human) on the sidewalk. Yes, it was eye-opening and very different from the suburbs where I grew up.
However, I think my main takeaway throughout the day was witnessing several methods of worship different from my own, forms of worship that were entirely out of my element and comfort zone.
Before hitting the streets for ministry, we had a time of prayer with all of teams who had come to serve. Expecting a time of silence and individual prayer, I was taken aback when the group from San Jose, a group of Korean Americans, began to pray out loud. It began with one leading voice, then another few joined in, then another few, and the room was soon roaring with the sound of 50 people praying out loud. Some were whispering, others were louder, passionately praying to the Lord. This, I remembered, is called Korean-style prayer. Coincidence? I think not. I was uncomfortable at first, however I had practiced this form of prayer at missions training through my church.
I wrote in my journal:
It’s awesome to see the way that the Koreans worship God. The way they praise God, shout to the Lord, make their voices heard to Him is amazing. They don’t appear to be self-conscious during prayer and focus all their heart, all their voice, all their energy on praying. They are able to fixate on Him, tuning out the loudness around them. It’s powerful, the Holy Spirit is so present.
I also experienced new forms of worship during the service at the rescue mission. During musical worship, one large, African American man was the only person standing up. His hands were in the air, his fingers pointing in different direction, slightly resembling the Usain Bolt pose. He moved his fingers around during the songs to match the beat. He loudly sang along to select bits and pieces of each song and said “Amen” at the top of his lungs at the end of each song. Most interestingly, during the sermon, he would let out a booming, almost eerie laugh when the speaker said something particularly pertinent.
It was uncomfortable, I admit. He certainly drew attention to himself. At first, I was judgmental and didn’t quite get it. Then, I realized after a time of reflection that this way the man’s way of worshipping God. Simply because I find it strange or irregular doesn’t mean that it doesn’t praise and please the Lord. The same could be said of the Korean-style prayer.
On Tuesday, I truly understood the unity we find in the Lord Jesus Christ. Us believers of all races, cultures, socioeconomic groups worship the same God. There is no Koreans vs. white vs. black vs. him vs. her when it comes to worship. God sees our worship all the same. Loud prayer isn’t wrong. Excited ‘amens’ aren’t wrong. And my quiet, kept-to-myself prayer isn’t the only right way.
I think what I wrote in my journal concludes my new perspective pretty well:
It was amazing watching other forms of worship today and know that God finds beauty in all worship. Praising in His name is never wrong, no matter how we do it.
“Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.” 1 Chronicles 16:23-25