San Francisco—the musical sound of the name alone strikes a romantic chord in most people. And no wonder, for even if you haven’t been there to gain a first-person love for the city, chances are you’ve been convinced of its charm just the same by poets and songwriters who unabashedly immortalize this place as the city of favorite cities.
Unique in many ways, San Francisco’s character is molded by its unusual location, its hilly topography, its mild climate, and the wonderful mixture of peoples and cultures that exists here. Surrounded by water on three sides this peninsula city’s climate is tempered year round by the ocean. Since it never gets too hot or too cold, the travel brochures describe the resulting effect as “perpetual spring.” However, the summer coolness isn’t universally admired. After a visit here Mark Twain once remarked, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
Buena Vista Heights, Forest Hill, Twin Peaks, Nob Hill, Mount Sutro—San Francisco is a city of hills. But without hills the cable cars wouldn’t work, and without cable cars, what would San Francisco be?
The shortage of flat space has dictated a different kind of building approach. In San Francisco its up, not out. Even the homes seem stacked on the hillsides, stair fashion. And most have two or more stories.
San Francisco has seemed determined to be an international city from its very beginning. Flags of England, Spain, Mexico, Russia, the Republic of California, and the United States had all flown over the area by 1850. And from the 1849 gold rush period to the present, San Francisco has continued to attract many different cultures.
Perhaps the most famous ethnic communities include the North Beach area of Little Italy, Chinatown (which houses the largest Oriental community outside Asia), and Japan Town. However, there are hundreds of smaller residential and commercial pockets where specific nationalities feel at home.
There residents speak their native languages with their countrymen, they buy their own cuisine, observe their own local festivals and celebrations, and many even read the daily news of their former homelands in locally published foreign language newspapers. Since some half of the city’s population is composed of minority groups, teaching the gospel in San Francisco often requires special understanding of other cultures as well as foreign language skills.
Missionary work in San Francisco is unique to this area. Many contacts are first made on buses, street cars, and trolleys. Then elders fluent in the language of the investigators are invited to teach families in their homes. Currently there are 200 missionaries in the California San Jose Mission, and many of these elders serve in the San Francisco area. They have come from Canada, from Samoa, from Tonga, from Great Britain, from Taiwan, from New Zealand, from the Philippines, and from the United States. The gospel is being taught to hundreds of families in their native tongues, including English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, Samoan, Italian, Tagalog, Spanish, Russian, Tongan, German, Vietnamese, Hebrew, and Indonesian.
Several of the missionaries mastered foreign language skills in other missions before they were transferred to the San Jose Mission and many teach in their native tongues. This influx of missionaries from other places adds a special dimension to the normal excitement and joy experienced in teaching the gospel in most mission fields. Missionaries and members alike seem to be shaped by the wide variety and character of this mix of cultures in San Francisco.