by Aylin Awbrey
Real estate experts say that the most important aspects to consider when purchasing any property are: location, location, and - you guessed it - location. Resting in the middle of San Francisco’s “Tenderloin” district, a region infamous for its violent street crime, sex trafficking, homelessness, and illicit drug use, our 357 Ellis Street property at YWAM San Francisco could not inhabit a more strategic location. Thirty thousand people populate the thirty three blocks surrounding our premises, constituting a range of over 25 spoken languages. These 25 languages represent peoples from Yemen, Vietnam, Pakistan and many more unreached nations of the world.
On the morning of July 1, Henry* shuffled into our building’s drop-in center. It had been yet another week of cold nights sleeping out on the sidewalk, and of feeling hopeless from deep drug addiction. “Talk to me about God,” he bluntly asked Janet, a staff member and grandmother widely loved around the Tenderloin for calling everyone “Treasure” and “Precious” - as well as for her becalming British accent. Janet proceeded to share about Jesus, His love, and how one can receive forgiveness by repenting of their sins. She explained that God forgives our sins and unconditionally loves, despite knowing the worst about us. In fact, this was not the first time a conversation like this had occurred between Janet and Henry. They had talked about God several times before, but today’s ending was different. “Can I pray now to ask Jesus to forgive me and change my life?” Henry responded. “I do want to change. I do want to love Him after all that He did for me.” Minutes later, Henry’s hands were folded. He talked to God as if they had been old friends, and asked the Lord into his life.
From under the roof of our ministry base and just beyond its doorstep, stories like this are not uncommon. YWAM San Francisco has been operating out of its two adjacent Ellis Street buildings since 1995, and we believe that God wants us to stay here. Our main building, built back in 1908, is currently home to thirty full-time staff. Within its walls, food is passed out to over 250 people through a weekly food pantry. Over the past twelve years, more than 16,000 people have participated in short-term outreach from our facility, 377 people have attended our six-month residential Discipleship Training School, and more than 100 staff members have joined us for at least two-year commitments. Diverse ministries, which cater to a wide variety of the city’s needs, grow and function from within our buildings. Amidst the missions that have been at our doorstep for the past twenty years, we have seen the Lord transform countless lives.
Meanwhile, the real estate market in San Francisco is hotter than it’s ever been. Companies are expanding rapidly enough to where they can snatch properties and tear them down to build apartments and commercial buildings. At the end of May, an unsolicited cash offer to our Landlord of $3.75 million was made for our property. Our landlord has always refused to sell, until now.
Since this offer was made, we have moved forward to raise over $900,000, and have declared our intention to purchase the buildings. However, we are still in need of $300,000 in donations by July 25th in order to prove our financial strength so that we can purchase and keep YWAM SF on Ellis Street. At the same time, we are ultimately striving to raise the entire $4 million to purchase the property, so as to own it debt free by September 23rd and minimize any loans that we must take. As we pray for this Miracle, we hold fast to the words of Psalm 20:7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (ESV)
The property of 357 Ellis Street is a launching point of God’s provision for the city of San Francisco, and that is why it is so important that we stay in this strategic location - with people like Henry right at our doorstep. Visit http://www.ywamsanfrancisco.org/miracle/ to see how. you can be a part of the Miracle.
S&C’s story of why they chose to donate towards our building fund.
My husband and I initially chose to support the property acquisition fund because we simply wanted to support the work that YWAM is currently doing in the Tenderloin. Most of us cannot be on the ground daily ministering to the needs of those who have less resources than we do. God is using this mighty work to be the hands and feet of Jesus every day. YWAM is not just about a hot shower or a meal. YWAM restores people at the deepest levels of their souls because they see people the way God would see them.
After watching this video we decided to give a second much larger gift because we realized we are not only investing in a ministry for today - but ENSURING that YWAM is able to minister as a LIGHT in the DARKNESS for many generations to come.
For “such a time as this” we wanted to be a part of what God will do through this building many decades after we are gone. Imagine yourself reaching into the future to provide that Tenderloin resident - who isn’t even born yet - a shower, a meal, a haircut, a hug, or a prayer. That’s what we are doing with this gift. Join us in investing in the FUTURE of YWAM SF in the Tenderloin by supporting the Property Acquisition Fund.
We have an immediate need for $500,000 to save our downtown facility in the Tenderloin from an unexpected buyer in this hot real estate market. Would you take a moment to read below and consider partnering with us in prayer?
We have been in conversation with our current landlord about buying our buildings over the past six months. He has not considered our offer until recently, when we were given notice that another interested buyer offered $3.75 million for both of the buildings.
The Tenderloin, our inner-city neighborhood, has become the latest frontier in gentrification, with big companies moving in to buy properties, landlords raising prices sky high, and several nonprofits closing their doors because of unaffordable rent or evictions.
YWAM San Francisco has been at this location in our neighborhood since 1995. We don’t believe our time is finished, and our ministries continue to expand with great favor in this place.
Our main building is home to 30 full-time staff. Since 2002, more than 15,000 people have participated in short-term outreach from our facility, 320 people have attended our six-month residential Discipleship Training School, and more than 100 staff members have joined us for at least two-year commitments. Since 2008, our Food Pantry ministry has fed the hungry with more than 200 tons of food.
We know this location is strategic in reaching San Francisco and engaging the city with a loving God. We’d like to secure our long-term presence in this place.
We have the option to buy our buildings before anyone else because of our lease. Our landlord has said he will not raise the price for us, even if other bidders raise their offers. This is good news! However, the urgency is not.
We have worked diligently over the last several years to raise $470,000 for our Property Acquisition Fund. We have an immediate need for an additional $500,000 to persuade our landlord we’re serious about purchasing.
We must tell our landlord whether we’re going to purchase the buildings by June 12.
Our current lease extends through 2021. However, if we don’t purchase our buildings we will have a new landlord. Our attorney has advised us there could be eviction or legal action that could remove us from our facility, which would allow a new landlord to rent it out at more than quadruple the current rate.
We’re sensing the Lord’s direction to secure the buildings now. We’re reaching out for help facing the biggest challenge we’ve ever come against.
Here’s How You Can Help
Pray that God would turn the heart of our landlord in our favor.
We need $500,000 in donations, pledges or loans by June 9. This money would help demonstrate to our landlord that we’re moving forward with purchasing the buildings and persuade him to sell to us and not the other party. If we don’t buy the property, the money will be used at the board’s discretion in our designated Property Acquisition Fund.
Would you prayerfully consider supporting us by making a donation to our Property Acquisition Fund?
MAKE A DONATION Click “One Time Donation” and note your donation is for the property fund.
Would you introduce us to any donors or investors who might be interested in supporting YWAM San Francisco? We’re trusting our landlord will agree to sell to us on June 9, and then give us an extended time to raise the rest of the money. We need immediate help now to raise $500,000, as well as long-term help to finish the purchase.
Could you spread the word through social media? Use the hashtag #sfmiracle.
Head to ywamsanfrancisco.org/miracle for social media images.
Thank You For Standing With Us.
No matter what happens, YWAM will continue to operate in the San Francisco Bay Area. We now have eight operating locations, from San Jose to San Francisco. We know God is with us.
—Aylin Awbrey, Cities Outreach Department Intern
When 2:00pm rolls around each Wednesday, a circle of green chairs reside in the Ellis room, with a warm body hunkered in almost every seat. The smell of brewing coffee permeates the dank air that often escapes into the room from the outside neighborhood. After everyone has had a chance to mingle and grab their coffee, a short prayer ensues and the Bible study begins. “Let’s all turn to Proverbs 16,” directs Ali, the group’s fearless Bible study leader. The whispering sounds of Bibles opening and their thin pages turning, momentarily drowns out the grim urban melody from the streets beyond the Ellis Room doors.
Proverbs consists of 31 chapters intended “for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair,” (Proverbs 1: 2 - 3). So far, Proverbs’ to-the-point words of wisdom have sparked some insightful discussions. After one or two people read a chapter, the conversation opens to questions, verses that may have resonated with anyone, life-application ideas, and generally any other thoughts, comments, or concerns. Wayne, long-time Bible study attendee and graduate of the 360 Program, claims listening to everyone’s different perspectives of the reading is his favorite part of the hour. “It all means one thing, but everyone has different perspectives on it,” he says. The book of Proverbs can be summed up in one passage: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). The discussion, for instance, about what it truly means to “fear the Lord” has been ongoing. Does fearing God mean actually being scared of him, or perhaps it means something deeper? Terms such as obedience, respect, unconditional love, and tough-love have come up in conversation about what it means to both fear and be loved by the Lord. Carmen, another Bible study veteran, agrees with Wayne: “My favorite part is the discussion. Not only reading The Word, but understanding The Word.”
This particular Wednesday-afternoon circle is open to anyone, and attendance consists of men and women, young and old, homeless and housed. The Bible study functions under the umbrella of Restoration Initiatives, YWAM SF’s ministry devoted to reaching out to the community of the Tenderloin neighborhood, most prominently its marginalized and overlooked members often subject to the issues of homelessness, isolation, addiction, and poverty. Carmen feels this Wednesday Bible study fellowship is especially unique because it brings her closer to her community. “I can point people to the Bible study because it’s in the Tenderloin,” she says, “It’s accessible to the people most in need.” Carmen knows this firsthand. She is one of the people who was pointed to YWAM San Francisco shortly after she moved to the city. 17 months after joining the Ellis Room Bible Study, she realized her true call to discipleship, and that she wanted more than a Wednesday a week to study the Bible and learn in fellowship with others. Now almost two years after the day she stumbled upon the Ellis room, Carmen is a member of Restoration Initiatives’ 360 Discipleship Program, and well on her way to becoming its first female graduate! Carmen feels grateful for the source of spiritual nourishment this Christ-centered group has been for her over the years. “The day before I turned 60, I moved to the city,” she says. “The first thing I did was find a church. The second thing I did was find a Bible study. I have been here ever since.”
Apart from the goal to be equipped with Biblical wisdom, the group seems like it functions as more than just a Bible study - several attendees struggle with English as their second language, but still attend faithfully despite not understanding all that is discussed and read. Each week, despite the various roads the group discussion can take, the conversation never fails to open up to people’s own testimonies of how they have grown from their own mistakes, remembering times they have learned from both following and not following what is written in God’s word. The main thing keeping another regular attendee named Salvatori coming is the love and presence of God he feels so strongly each week. “My favorite part is the inviting of Jesus right in the center,” he says. “I feel Christ’s love right there.” The collective transparency of the group almost creates an atmosphere of a support group of sorts. In truth, that’s exactly what it is — a support group for the broken, a “Broken Spirits Anonymous” meeting. Ali, the Ellis Room’s faithful Bible study leader and first-ever graduate of the 360 Program, remembers back to his days of drug abuse, and the way he witnessed God’s immaculate healing and discipline in his life. “I realized I couldn’t get clean [from drugs] without God,” he confesses. “God got me clean. I’ve been clean over 6 years.” Ali hopes for the same transformation within many of the weekly attendees of the Bible study. He knows the fear of the Lord, taught so explicitly in Proverbs, has the power to clean one’s heart mind and soul, even one’s physical body. One of the best parts of the Bible study is “seeing all the regulars that keep coming back,” Ali says. “It’s amazing to see how far they’ve grown, to see the spiritual maturity in them.” Proverbs 4:20-22 says, “My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” Jesus came to transform a world full of the poor, the weary, and the oppressed, and apart from His grace, reading His word is part of this nourishment. The Ellis Room Bible study provides not only a place to gain Biblical wisdom and maturity, but a safe place for anyone to become vulnerable to their brokenness.
And just when the coffee has run out a little past 3pm, a loud “Amen” from a large prayer circle marks the end of the Wednesday Ellis Room Bible Study. After half an hour of hanging out, playing some friendly 8-ball or ping-pong, and getting any extra prayer, it is officially time to leave. When the attendees exit the doors, they pass by a mural painted on the Ellis Room walls of a vast, split-in-half heart with a verse whose words seem to hold the two pieces together: The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, Psalm 147:3. Our hope and prayer at YWAM San Francisco is that each person who walks through the Ellis Room doors would leave with a little more joy than they came in with. We believe that with Christ in the center of something as simple as a circle of green chairs, broken hearts will continue to be mended.
My interest in interning with YWAM San Francisco was sparked by a mere drive by last summer. I was unusually inspired by the city’s chaos and diversity and felt drawn to be more than just a spectator. I found myself craving visits to San Francisco during the time I wasn’t working with my church’s middle school ministry, and that eventually manifested itself into an unanticipated desire to be involved in urban ministry. On my way home from the city one night I did a double take as I passed by 357 Ellis Street and saw the sign: Youth With a Mission San Francisco.
My warm summer soon ended, and I returned to college in Antarctica (AKA St. Olaf College in Minnesota). We run by semesters, but a one month long January term separates both semesters and gives students an easy way to seize out of classroom opportunities such as internships. Because of my commitment to being a full time student, I felt pressured to postpone this tug on my heart to ministry until the summertime. After wrestling with the prospect long enough, I simply concluded, why not now? and applied for the January internship.
As of now, this is my second week working as a Cities Outreach Department Intern. So far I am loving and absorbing every moment of it. I feel blessed by how the wonderful staff has accommodated my uncommon thirty day time span and is letting me help with its various ministries. Unlike usual interns and students here, I am not living on base but commuting from my home in Saratoga. Originally a daunting prospect to me, the commute to SF has been a blessing in disguise: an allotted two hours of my day that I get to spend in prayer, quiet time, and reading. Every day now I look forward to my train ride and my walk from the station to the YWAM base. But by a long shot, the most impactful part of being here has been seeing and experiencing God’s love and power unfold so noticeably. Awakening moments for me are found in serving hot chocolate to the Tenderloin neighborhood, looking up from across the street at the barred rooms of brothels (disguised as massage parlors) and praying for the Lord’s intervention, having heart to hearts with visitors waiting in the Ellis Room shower line, and passing out food to over 300 community residents during the Thursday Food Pantry. It feels incredible to tangibly show God’s love to a city I am so fond of, and especially to the unparalleled community of the Tenderloin.
If you’re like me and feel a tug on your heart to work in ministry or missions, I encourage you to ask yourself the same question I posed to myself last year: why wait? John 4:35 says, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” You may have just completed your college applications, but feel called to a gap year with YWAM. Perhaps you’re a full time student, or just finished your doctorate degree. High school dropout, senior citizen, young or old, thick or thin - if you feel called to the mission field, consider surrendering your insecurities and gambling with your time now. You may find yourself doing a double take as you pass by your field.
-Aylin Awbrey (Cities Outreach Department Intern)
A haircut seems like such a simple thing, something common for many of us. You might ask, Can a haircut really change a person’s attitude or outlook?
Melissa, one of our regular visitors, came into the haircut ministry time one Wednesday. She entered with matted and unkempt hair, and often carries an attitude that matches. Chops and Jolene, Restoration Initiatives staff, went to work with conditioner and combs to untangle her dry hair. It took them over 20 minutes working together to finally get all of the matts out of her hair. Chops then washed, cut, and styled her hair with a blow dryer, an extra special treat. When showing her the final product in the mirror, Melissa’s face lit up and she squealed with delight, “Perfect!!”
The staff witnessed a change in Melissa, being cared for and doted on, she was exuberant and very interactive. A change from many days as she can be hostile and closed off. She seemed to be a totally different person in the haircut chair and days afterwards. She recently told another staff member she considers YWAM San Francisco her family. Pray with us for her continued healing as a disciple of Jesus.
The haircut ministry is a huge blessing to our visitors, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive a haircut. Many visitors have come in for haircuts before job interviews, which are their opportunity for regular income and housing again. In much of the ministry here it can be difficult to see changes quickly in the visitors, usually taking many visits and prayers. Haircuts is one of the few times when an immediate transformation in people’s confidence, attitude, and self esteem is clearly seen. Have you ever felt a change after visiting the salon or barber?
It is people like you who keep impact happening. The doors stay open to our visitors only by your contributions. Thank you for partnering with us to see the common become extraordinary.
Find out more about how you can fund these services here