Tenderloin, the most crime-ridden, drug-infested and violent neighborhood in San Francisco, have experienced the persistent and tenacious intervention and acts of compassion through San Francisco City Impact, an inner-city ministry that works together with the Christian churches in the Bay Area and around the country to minister to the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes, and the poor.
To the poor in the Tenderloin, SF City Impact staffs and volunteers are ‘angels’ in disguise. Their courage and resolve to go into the neighborhood that’s cautioned as an “area to avoid” have brought hope and healing - through giving free groceries, building friendship with the isolated, giving health care, low-cost education for children, and others – is a testament to Christ’s love for mankind when he came into this world to die for sinners.
Turk St used to be one of the worst streets in the entire Tenderloin district, where hundreds of drug-addicts and prostitutes filled the street. Today, the same street is one of the safest streets in the whole neighborhood. Although Tenderloin continues to hold a seedy reputation from its squalid conditions, homelessness, illegal drug trade, drug violence, prostitution, liquor stores, and strip clubs, it is also home to close to 30,000 residents in less than half a square mile – the most densely populated in the city.
In the last three decades, San Francisco City Impact founder Pastor Roger Huang and his wife, Maite, were a glimmer of hope through handing out sandwiches, praying, and building personal relationships with the people in Tenderloin. Today, their work has evolved into a ‘city on a hill’ through their ministry’s all-encompassing services and holistic approach.
“Ultimately we just want to see a spiritual awakening in San Francisco. This might be a spark to create a movement. We don’t speak and talk as much as we do the work. Most of the people like to lecture and preach, but our work is to go into the building and interact with the homeless, the kids. We do the physical work. In that, we see the lives being transformed,” said Huang.
“God, I just want to work for you”
Born in Taiwan, Roger Huang immigrated with his family to San Francisco at the age of 15. He left home at age 17 because his father was abusive. He started working at a hotel and eventually worked his way up as auditors, working for various hotels such as Marriot, Holiday Inn, Renaissance, and finally Parc 55.
When he was 27, Huang came to accept Christ in his heart through hearing an evangelist preaching on a television show. His subsequent search for God through prayers and fasting and reading the Bible in the mountains left him hungry for more in life. Although he has a stable job, he felt deep discontent with his life.
“Up to that point, I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t like my life… the hotel… I didn’t fit in any circle of friends. I was very touched [by] the fact that God gave me a new life. I just felt so much grace,” he said. That was when he gave this prayer, “God, I just want to work for you.”
In the days after his prayer, Huang was waiting on Turk St, which was just blocks away from Parc 55, for a tow truck to come to fix his flat tire. That day, he experienced something that awakened his spirit to God’s calling for him.
As he waited for the tow truck, he saw two older boys harassing another younger boy, but he left without doing anything. That night, he felt “very disturbed” by his negligence and the plight of those in Tenderloin, and he prayed with his wife. Convinced that God had spoken to them, the couple made 50 sandwiches and the following day brought them to the Tenderloin district.
“That was 29 years ago. I didn’t stop and I just kept on coming,” says Huang, who eventually quit his two jobs. “I just jumped in here.”
Although he got involved with some churches and ministries, he wanted to saturate his life with ministry work but didn’t want to be a preacher. Instead of just be on stage, he wanted to do something.
“When I came here and looked at the condition of the community, then I realized that you can’t do this work one hour a week,” he says, recalling how his wife told him to quite everything, because of the amount of work to do. It got to a point, where his wife asked him to quit his two-day time jobs.
“She said you need to quit. I said that I don’t know if there is anything else for me to do,” he says. “But as I got more involved that’s how we open up the rescue mission, school, the thrift store. “
Depending on God’s Providence
Instead of relying on traditional means of fundraising, Huang and his wife resolved to prayers and fasting, relying upon their faith in God to provide all that they need.
“We didn’t have a fundraising banquet. We just kept on going out ministering here. I stayed here 90% of my life. Most people when they have a ministry like this, they spent 90% outside their field, because they have to raise money. For me, I just stayed here. God just provided.
“People showed up, and they just gave $100,000 check, $40,000 check, and gold coins and things like that. Even now, if I go out to visit pastors, nothing happens. People come here. The other day, I was having lunch with nine pastors. Right now, we have 100 people working,” he said.
“Life is not on the stage, but it is off the stage”
Huang’s book “Chasing God” is scheduled to be published on Sept. 1 by the Colorado-based Christian publisher David C. Cook, who had arranged for six people on the marketing team to fly out to San Francisco to meet with him at 230 Jones St. According to the wish of Huang to not travel, the marketing team mapped out a marketing plan where people would be brought to him instead of him going out to speak.
“No, I am not willing to go out,” he said. “This is my life. I don’t want to travel. I’m here with my wife, kids, and grandkids. They also go to school here. I don’t want to look back in my life and say I wish I had spent more time with them.”
Huang, 55, has close to a dozen grandchildren. He prefers a simple life, away from an extravagant lifestyle of other high-profile pastors. “It is too flashy and glittery,” he said. “I’ve seen pastors who go on to big conferences and big mission trips. At the end of their lives, nothing is going on.”
“I want to be with regular people, my family, and people that we can sit right here and we can talk. Life is not on the stage, but it is off the stage. That’s basically who I am.”
A Shepherd to the Tenderloin and SF City Impact Staffs
Huang shared that later in the afternoon there would be a prayer meeting, where all 35 staffs of SF City Impact will come with each of their ministry leaders to his office throughout every 20-30 minutes. Huang would pray with them and find out their needs.
“Sometimes they have a problem with their car and personal problems, and they don’t earn a lot. If the ministry can bless them, we will,” he said. “The only thing that I really enjoy doing is praying with people.”
On the other hand, Huang commented on the holistic programs offered through the SF City Impact ministries to the people in the Tenderloin communities.
“We pray, teach them, talk to them and provide day to day need, whatever it is that they need, food, grocery, dental, mental, relationship. A lot of them don’t have any friends. We just want to help them with their loneliness, because I was alone for a long time. It is not easy to make friends in this world, but God is able to make that happen.”
A Church for the Healing of the Tenderloin
Moreover, Huang started a church. Instead of working Monday through Friday as social workers and attending a big church on the weekend, he realized that he wanted to worship with the people here.
“It was difficult. They come here and steal purses. They take money and are drunk, but I didn’t care. I’d rather be with them or I will feel disconnected,” he said.
“Now, we have a lot of Tenderloin people coming. When people from out of town come here, we tell them no. This church is not for you. Go to churches outside of the Tenderloin. It is better for you. We don’t want to build a church for the sake of church. We want to minister and worship and pray with Tenderloin people for them to get well. We don’t want more believers to make us a better church. That’s not what our goal is.
"You are not going to get anything from us. We’re for the Tenderloin. If you have kids, you need a better daycare go to other church. If you want better worship, go to that church. Here is all for the Tenderloin," he said.
Calling the Chinese, African, and Hispanic Church to Come and Help
Each year, maybe 250 churches would send their members to volunteer at SF City Impact. For instance, during Compassion Weekend in April, one of ministry’s 10 annual community events, Menlo Park Presbyterian Churches (MPPC) sent in around 600 people as volunteers. Moreover, the Menlo Park-based church has donated an entire kitchen appliance set with 12 burners, 4 ovens, 6 warmers and a commercial hood, enabling them to prepare countless meals to the poor and homeless in the Tenderloin.
Although the ministry has been blessed with these supports, Huang believes that they could use more help to restore the lives of those in Tenderloin.
He said that if he were to tally up the participating churches, the percentage of helpers from the Chinese, African, and Hispanics Christian community are very few. He asks that they can join him and the staffs at City Impact to minister and serve the poor in a collective effort to heal and revive the Tenderloin district.