SFTS student starts street ministry in San Francisco
Homeless ministry started with a burger and a cup of coffee
September 23, 2013
SAN ANSELMO, Calif.
What started with a McDonald’s hamburger and a cup of coffee from Starbucks has turned into a full-fledged street ministry.
Last October, San Francisco Theological Seminary M.Div. student Yong Gee Cho felt a call to reach out to the homeless population in San Francisco. Cho, who is originally from Korea, has been working recently in college ministry in Boston and in parish ministry in San Francisco.
He didn’t know how he could help the men and women who were living without homes in his city, but he felt called to help them in some way.
“It started out just by me buying McDonald’s hamburgers and cups of coffee from Starbucks,” Cho says. “I would then just approach different people who were living on the street and ask if I could share a meal with them.”
By sharing hamburgers and cups of coffee with homeless men and women on Saturdays, Cho began to start conversations with them, talking not only about their spiritual lives but about their entire life stories.
“Some of them were dealing with addictions, some of them had other deep personal pains,” Cho says. “I felt it was my call to share God’s love just by listening to them.”
Cho soon realized he needed help. That was when he met an older woman in his community who was so touched by the work he was doing with homeless people that she offered to provide financial support to cover the cost of the sandwiches and cups of coffee.
“It was such a wonderful blessing to have her support,” Cho says.
This wasn’t the only surprise Cho found as his ministry began to grow. He soon met a local hairstylist who offered to assist him on Saturdays by providing haircuts to those who needed them. Later, Cho met a dental student from the University of California-San Francisco who offered to provide free dental care.
Cho recalls one homeless man he met in San Francisco who was suffering from the effects of lice. The volunteer hairstylist was able to remove the lice from his hair and body, and Cho provided him with a set of donated clothing.
“He told me he looked like a businessman,” Cho says. “He was really overjoyed.”
While seeing people in such difficult places and situations can be painful, says Cho, remaining focused on sharing God’s love is what enables him to continue to serve those on the streets.
“I think the church is about reaching out to the community,” he says. “It’s not just about ministering to people in the pews, but ministering to those who aren’t in the pews. Christ met the people who were not the churchgoers but those who were marginalized.”
Cho says his ministry has been a moving experience for him and for his children as well. He frequently brings his children with him when he ministers on the streets. He says this teaches them about issues related to poverty as well as about serving those in need.
“Bringing my children has helped them learn to meet those we are serving,” he says. “It allows those who are homeless to meet my children and for us to connect on a deeper level.”
Cho is hoping to expand his ministry to provide more care and services for those in need. He also hopes to start a street worship service that will include music.
While Cho continues to explore what God has in store for his ministry, he remains appreciative for those who helped inspire and guide him through the creation of his outreach to those on the streets. Cho especially credits two SFTS professors: Jana Childers, professor of homiletics and speech-communication, and Laurie Garrett Cobbina, Shaw Family Chair for Clinical Pastoral Education.
“They have been tremendous mentors to me and have helped guide me in ministry,” he says.
Cho says he has been applying what he learns in the classroom to his ministry out on the streets, which he describes as a ministry of meeting people and sharing God’s love.
“My ministry is about trying to meet people where they are,” Cho says. “That’s what Christ did and what we are called to do.”