we exist to intervene

san francisco, city impact, tenderloin district

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

September 20, 2013

I’m pretty sure that Daysha is a transvestite. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to tell. Regardless, she tells her three girlfriends in the room that we are angels, and that they should never turn away angels.

Our team was visiting people door-to-door at the Hotel Fairfax in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Our goal was to develop relationships while delivering bags of groceries and praying with people. This kind of activity has become the cornerstone for San Francisco City Impact, an organization devoted to transforming this community and breaking the unhealthy cycles that keep people in the bondage of poverty.

I appreciate Daysha’s openness to our team while her friends tended to shy away. She said that too often you open the door in places like this and it’s the demons who rush in and buzz around like flies. So when angels stop by, it’s important to welcome them. So we prayed for a couple of their needs, but real conversation was still somewhat shallow.

Then there was Pat. It’s easy to see how life and addiction have taken their toll on him. His big (almost completely toothless) grin as we asked if we could pray for him and his transvestite partner revealed that this time with him would be worthwhile. He was proud to show off his pocket-sized New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs Bible, as if he wanted badly to connect with us on a deeper level.

He wanted, like so many of us, to belong.

My favorite moment came when he told us that people (including most Christians) don’t do this kind of thing. He seemed to be on the verge of tears as he expressed his gratitude for our desire to genuinely connect with him. It seemed as though he felt like he just got a visit from Jesus Himself.

I can’t fix all of Pat’s problems, but I can love. I can love as Jesus loved. [Click to tweet!]

The building we were visiting is the same building that Christian Huang, Executive Director of City Impact, saw a woman being forcibly dragged into just days earlier. That experience left him feeling helpless and powerless to do something. It’s very clear that gangs and traffickers run this building. People inside are afraid to open their doors, for fear of what might come at them.

Christian weeps as he tells us that if the whole purpose of City Impact could be summed up in one word, it would be “intervene.” He says that even if we are never able to turn the neighborhood around, we simply cannot sit idle and do nothing. We MUST do something. We must intervene on their behalf.

And it’s hard work. It’s the kind of work that sometimes feels like it’s too overwhelming, or that you’re not making any progress.

That’s  the moment Josh, one of the intern/staff of City Impact dropped some serious God-wisdom on me…

This place.

This is the kind of place where I imagine Jesus spending most of His time. I know that He draws close to the broken-hearted. And I know He seeks to bring healing and restoration to the lost.

Christian also tells us that generally-speaking, most of the people in the Tenderloin fall into this kind of pattern:

  1. Suffer from some form of early-age trauma; often physical, sexual, and mental abuse.
  2. End up falling into addictions of all kinds as a way to cope and numb the pain of that trauma.
  3. Retreat into isolation from others in their community, often dying alone.

I can see Jesus wanting to intervene in each of these areas in people’s lives. But that takes time. And that’s why many from our team went back to the Hotel Fairfax the next day. And that’s why other teams from City Impact will continue to go back.

They We exist to intervene. Because people like Daysha and Pat are worth it. [Click to tweet!]


  1. pastordt

    Oh, Dan! This is so powerful. Thanks for sharing this ministry with us – and thanks for being an angel that day.

    • Dan King

      Thanks Diana! It was a really powerful experience. I love to see ministry like this happening in communities, especially the hard ones where most people don’t want to go. And I’m always humbled when I have an opportunity to be a blessing to someone else.

  2. Jen Vick

    Dan—this. Such great, straight-up truth. We exist to intervene. So simple, but dang, so profound. Chewing on this today as I write and journal and put a plan into action. More coming from me soon. 🙂

    • Dan King

      ha! #fistbump!

      now you go and do likewise!

  3. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    Dan, thank you for this wisdom and for sharing the heart of this ministry. One of the most life-changing experiences of my life was a few days of serving in SROs in the Tenderloin during college. I will never forget the desperation and sorrow, nor the ways Jesus was so very close. I love what Josh said: they are responding to God’s call to love and serve, regardless of fruit or “outcomes.” And Pat’s response to being simply loved, that brings tears right to my eyes. Such a picture of Jesus come down. Thank you, Dan.

    • Dan King

      Wow… so cool that you’ve spent some time in the Tenderloin too! And yeah… it was a truly powerful experience. I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to serve there. I learned a lot, and definitely felt like I was a part of something important happening in people’s live there.

      the best part is that the following weekend i had the opportunity to serve in a rougher neighborhood here in my town too, and felt many of the same feelings as i poured out into the people (and kids).


  4. Melinda Todd

    Wow, this brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing and giving me some brain storming ideas. I want to reach out in our small community and I’m dreaming on how God wants us to do that, whether it’s as a church body or a family. I think I have an idea… What a blessing you were that day and that blessing was returned to your heart.

    • Dan King

      It was a treat being there in that community with such an amazing ministry! I’d love to go back, but it also really helped me to open my eyes to similar situations in my own community, and ways my church can make a difference like this. VERY cool stuff!

  5. Patti Burris

    I am so glad I found you! I just started reading the “Unlikely Missionary” and I have already been touched and inspired. I live in Terre Haute, Indiana. Vigo County has the highest poverty rate in Indiana and I have a heart for those living in poverty. My heart cries out for those who are struggling and trying to find their voice, but meeting oppression from others or circumstances on every side. I am a single mom of 5 kids, who are growing up on me. I live in poverty myself, but I am so rich because of a God who chose me as His child. I work in the food service dept. of a local convent, but want to minister full-time to those living in poverty. I just paid off a 20 year loan on 2 lots in West Terre Haute, Indiana. The house is not livable right now and I am praying for a way to build a house that I can use to minister to the poor of West Terre Haute. I would love to start a Catholic Worker House, but don’t have the money. I love the example of Dorothy Day and the energy she expended in her fight for those living in poverty. I have a blog that I have been writing for just over a year. You have inspired me! Thank you! http://www.pattiburris.com.

    • Dan King

      Awesome, Patti! I so appreciate your heart to pour into others, especially despite your own circumstance! And I’m honored to know that something I’ve done has played a role with inspiring you in some way. I’ll be praying for you and your work ministering to those in your area!


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we exist to intervene

by Dan King time to read: 3 min