So I’ve been wondering for a while now if I should bother speaking on behalf of the poor. I mean there seem to be hundreds of voices out there already and they all seem to be saying different things. If I throw my voice in the mix wouldn’t that just complicate things even further?
I do everything I can to stay informed on the issue of poverty and homelessness. I occasionally read the Toronto Sun which has a reputation of being a ‘right-wing’ newspaper. It often seems to suggest that homelessness could be solved if the money being spent could stop being wasted and spent better. They also seem to suggest that if homeless people themselves got a job and stopped drinking and doing drugs than that would be helpful too. And a vagrancy law wouldn’t hurt either.
Then I try reading the Star sometimes too. It has a reputation of being ‘left-wing’ and also seems to have its solutions to homelessness. Oftentimes they feel like there needs to be a whole lot more money and that the answer is not shelters but housing. While I totally agree with this, they seem willing to then suggest that shelters are really bad and dirty and run down and unsafe. This personally offends me as I run a shelter and have helped to design shelters and know that not all shelters are bad. And more importantly I have 40 staff that come to work every day and work their butts off to try and bring hope to the poor and they don’t deserve to be publicly crucified by the media.
And there’s also the voice of our local anti-poverty groups. One such group is strongly advocating for a national housing policy. I am totally behind this as we desperately need it. But they too seem willing to say nasty things about existing services like shelters and I often wonder if they cause more damage then good. Their answer to homelessness is the 1% solution. They suggest that if the federal government delegates 1% of its total budget to homelessness than the issue will be solved. While I again am in complete agreement that much more money needs to be spent, do they really think that this problem can be solved with money?
Another such anti-poverty group is willing to use disruption of services and violence as a means to be heard. And I think about Martin Luther King Jr. whose memory we just celebrated. He single-handedly changed the world using peace and I can’t help but wonder if we can learn from him.
So then I go home after a long days work and try and relax in my living room. I turn on the TV and settle in for the 6 o’clock news. The first story is about a young black male who shot a white girl in a bar on Yonge street. The second story is about a young black male who shot another young black male in Regent Park. And I wonder if the 2nd story is 2nd because it’s less important than the 1st. After all, it was only 30 seconds long when the first story took 8 minutes to cover.
But before I can get my head around that the next story comes on which is an update on the missing girl who has been abducted from her bedroom. I start to feel really sad for that family. But deeper down I start to experience fear. After all, I have a one year old daughter and it would kill me if something like that happened to her. Should I beef up security in my home? Should I install an alarm system? Should I build a big fence around my back yard? And just in case anyone in my neighbourhood actually thinks I want to get to know them, maybe I should put a ‘Keep off the Grass’ sign on my front lawn for good measure.
But before I can digest all my thoughts, the commercials come on. The first commercial is a beautiful woman having what appears to be an orgasm because the shampoo she’s using is just so good. I start to think that maybe I should get some of that shampoo because I like a good orgasm as much as the next guy. But then I realize I don’t actually have any hair so I don’t really need shampoo.
Then the next commercial tries to convince me that I really need to have the new model SUV. I start to think that maybe I really do need one. After all, I have a wife and small child and am hoping to have more kids and it would be so comfortable. But then I realize I don’t really need an SUV, especially considering the fact that I live in the city. If I were to buy one it would be unnecessary and it would be contributing to the destruction of the environment. If I claim to worship the creator and destroy the creation, wouldn’t that be a true form of hypocrisy?
Thankfully, before I can fully think through all of that, the news comes back on again. It’s a world news story. Surprisingly, it’s not about the war. It’s a story about the Queen’s dog being attacked and killed by another dog belonging to someone else in the Royal family. And I wonder, “Does anyone really care about the Queen’s dog when so many people are dying on our streets?”
I finally have no choice but to turn off the TV and embrace the silence. There are so many voices coming at me all at once that I think I’ll go crazy. I start to wonder, “Does all of this confusion have anything to do with homelessness?” I think the answer is yes. If we’re so willing to let ourselves be told what to think by the papers and television, and they are telling us that we need to be afraid of everyone who looks a little different from us and that we need orgasmic shampoo and an SUV, it’s no wonder we don’t have time to think about things that really matter. And I conclude that western homelessness might just have more to do with us having too much time and money on our hands then the fact that we don’t have enough. Over time, money has become our god. We worship it. And as all gods need to have sacrifices made in order to appease them, perhaps our society’s sacrifices to our god are human. Perhaps they are the poor.
So then I think I’ll go to church. Surely I’ll find the answers to my questions there. But when I get there, on the very rare occasion that the preacher actually talks about poverty and justice (which continues to shock me considering much of the Bible focuses on this issue), it’s often in the context that we need to get out of our pews and get down to the streets to those poor wretched souls so we can save them and transform their lives. Do these preachers really think that ‘they’ are different then ‘us’? Do they not even consider for a moment that ‘the poor’ may actually be able to transform our own lives? Do they realize how patronizing and divisive this kind of talk is?
Then I turn to the Bible for answers. I personally think the Bible is the most confusing book I’ve ever read. And there are thousands of theologians saying thousands of different things that they think the Bible is saying and all of them seem different. But thankfully I have met some friends who have given over their whole lives to try and seek justice and hope for the voiceless. And it is here, in the context of community, that I finally have found some truth. The fact is that the Bible is the best book on poverty out there. And among the many things it has to say, it clearly shows that not only is it our right to have a voice for the voiceless, and not only is it our privilege to have a voice for the voiceless, it is our responsibility as well.
So let’s together have a voice!
I wonder why my mother wasn’t a crack addict. Why wasn’t I born in poverty? Why wasn’t I born HIV positive? Why wasn’t I born in slavery? Why wasn’t I sexually or physically abused as a child? I don’t really have an answer to that. I could just as easily have had to face these kinds of horrors in my own life. (I know some of you stability for our own lives are very important in the process of life. However, a lot of people have never learned this along the way. As a result, we encounter on a daily basis, people who do not have the ability to make healthy choices. They appear lazy, abusive, argumentative, whiny, violent and inappreciative. (Just to name a few)
What have some people been taught in Toronto? The south central/ southeast side has the largest concentration of poverty in all of Canada. Up until WWII, it was the place where poor people found affordable housing and low-skilled jobs. Every decade since then has brought more people and fewer jobs. This have.) I did not have a choice as to whether or not I would have to face this as a child.
As humans, there are many things in our lives that shape us that we have no control over. We don’t choose who our parents and siblings are. We don’t choose the color of our skin. We don’t choose our economic status as children. And we, almost always, don’t choose when we die.
The people we work with every day have had situations in their lives that they wouldn’t have chosen if given the opportunity. Stories of horrible abuse and destruction permeate our
“…there are many things in our lives that shape us that we have no control over.”
Has led to a community of dependant people being taught to expect a high level of care. Also, throughout history it has been shown that first generation of dependant poor wants work. How-ever, subsequent generations want care. Because of downsizing and technological advances, the need for low skilled labour has diminished. As a result, there is very little work for first generation poor. Therefore, subsequent generations are being taught that it is someone else’s responsibility to care for their needs. This is the scene here in Toronto.
As a Christian agency, our view of
Community. Given the histories of some of these guys, it’s a wonder they’re still alive.
Sometimes we scratch our heads when we witness the choices that they do make. We ask ourselves why people don’t get a job. We wonder why they squander rent checks or FBA money on drugs. Decisions that seem so much like common sense to us don’t even occur to some guys when forced to make a decision. And we wonder why.
The fact is, our ability to make choices depends on the way we have been taught to make them. Somewhere along the way, we learned that holding down a job, paying bills, and taking responsipoverty needs to be informed by scripture. Given that there are over 400 references to poverty in Scripture, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see God’s heart revealed on this issue. However, the problem is we often let our view of poverty get influenced by things like our political biases, social class or the media. For example, if we read a right wing newspaper we might be led to believe that people who are poor should just get a job and that would fix everything. If we read a left wing paper we might believe that everyone who is poor should blame everyone else for their predicament and just sit around until the government gives them free stuff. However scripture, for the most part, portrays poverty as a circumstance beyond a person’s control, and balances it with a reminder of personal responsibility.
With this scriptural foundation of poverty, we must design programs that follow this model. We must strive to try and understand who our community is. We have to work hard at not labeling people as hopeless causes. We have to be creative in our approach, so as to try and help people unlearn unhealthy decision-making skills.
We can do this by being models. Some people on this staff have some unbelievable stories. We have those who have been brought up in situations of poverty and have lived lives similar to that of many of our clients. We also have staff members who were brought up in loving families and still want and that lead me to the most important thing of all: FAITH. Only by faith can we witness the miracles that God has in store for this community in downtown Toronto. There are all kinds of pockets of faith throughout this ministry. I’m calling everyone to pray. Pray for this ministry. Pray for each other. Pray for the building. Pray for revival. Pray for forgiveness. Pray for faith. Just pray!
Every Halloween, my wife and I walk through our community to take in the festivities. All kinds of things happen on our block and the neighbors go all out. This year we saw Elvis, Santa Claus, and Dracula; and those were just the adults. One house was lit with black lights and in the door, waiting for trick-or-treaters, was a mummy middle class homes who are experiencing some kind of abuse) I was in the middle of a crisis. I understood that while I was only a 10-minute drive away from the nearest squeegee kid, I was a world away from it. Should I be here? Is it ethical for me, an advocate for the poor, to live in a place that can’t comprehend the far reaching effects of such poverty? What should I do?
While the jury is still out on my overall impression of this experience, I did come to some conclusions:
I need not feel guilty for being blessed with material things while others have not.
I must never take for granted the things that I have.
If I have extra resources, I should do handing out candies. Even I was scared!
As we were walking, we saw something strangely familiar. In front of us was a young, scruffy looking kid with a five o’clock shadow, tattered clothes, and messy hair wielding a squeegee. For a second it didn’t even occur to me that this was out of place. Then I did a double take. I realized that this was a middle class kid in the middle of Leaside who dressed up as a squeegee kid for Halloween. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I began experiencing all kinds of
“My first reaction was anger and disgust.”
What I can to help those who are not as privileged as I am. I should not hoard my money or material goods.
I should do what I can in the community I live in to educate those around me as to the importance of being emotions. My first reaction was anger and disgust. Did this kid think that being a squeegee kid ranked up there with being a wicked witch? Did his parents give him permission to dress like this? Do they not know how offensive this really is to those who are poor and can tell countless stories of many kinds of abuse? Should I say something to him?
It was this last question that made me switch gears a little. What would I say? Would it even remotely make any sense to these people who are so far removed from anything a squeegee kid might go through? (Except for the kids in their aware of the plight of others. Not everyone has the same understanding of poverty that I do. I should not judge them, but work hard to educate.
When I vote, even if it’s in Leaside, I need to vote for those with a wise social conscience and keep them accountable.
It’s easy to forget that most people have no idea about the things I see day to day and regard as normal. It’s important to not take this lifestyle setting as ‘status quo’ and I should place myself in situations to remind me that what I see every day is not the way it has to, or should, be.
I should always remember that my life is interconnected with those around me. I do not stand alone as a separate entity, getting what I can out of life regardless of who I step on along the way.
I need to get out more!
Anyway, that’s what I’ve learned from Halloween in Leaside this year. Maybe some of it is relevant to us here at The GateWay. In the meantime, keep on being The Hand of God in the Heart of
Some of you have heard me say this before but I’d like to say it again for the record; I hate camping! I hate the bugs, I hate sleeping on the ground, and I hate outhouses. I hate waking up in the morning in a puddle of my own sweat with mosquitoes buzzing around my ears. I hate it when it rains. I hate it when it’s too hot. I hate shirts? I want to take a little time to spell out why I think this motto is so crucial to us here at The GateWay.
An important question to ask in relating to this motto is “Does God really have His hand in the city or is the city a result of the sins of human-kind?” One branch of Biblical scholarship has devoted much of its time in a continuing search for an anti-urban bias in the scriptures. Led by prominent figures such as Jacques Ellul in the 1970’s, this school of thought left little room for the city to be anything but a hotbed of sin.
This thinking penetrated the church and manifested itself in many unhealthy ways. Many
Even after all of that, I do understand why many people love it. There are some good points to it. You’re all alone with nature. You can gaze at the stars at night in wonder and awe at how huge the universe really is. You can paddle a canoe and go fishing. You can light a campfire and roast marshmallows in the darkness. You can witness the majesty of nature that God has created and as result, feel close to Him. For me however, all of the other stuff dominates the few precious moments involved with camping.
“Only a couple of years ago, a very important historical event took place that went almost unnoticed.”
Inner city churches traded in downtown real estate for property in the suburbs. Church bulletins began to only have pictures on their covers of mountains, plains, rivers and other nature scenes. Never did you see a picture of a person lifting his/her hands to God while standing on top of a skyscraper on the cover of the order of service. Over time, a seductive message was sent to much of the church that we needed to go into the country to find God. As a result, for the most part, the church became invisible in the inner city.
Why am I talking about this? I guess I simply want to make a case against the popular belief that you can only feel close to God in nature, and that it’s difficult to experience God in the city. I love the city so much that I want people to recognize that God is in the city as well as in the country, and that we can find rest and rejuvenation right where we are; in the heart of the city.
‘The Hand of God in the Heart of the City’. What does it mean? Why do I keep harping on it? Why do I think it’s so important to have it on everything from our business cards to our uniform important historical event took place that went almost unnoticed. For the first time in the history of the world, more people were living in the city than in the country. And yet a huge majority of churches today are in the country.
A one-sentence description of Biblical history shows that “The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city”. If we look at the book of Genesis closely, we can see that God does have a plan for the city. We can see that God’s call on Adam and Eve in Gen.1: 28 to ‘fill, rule and subdue the earth’ was, among other things, a mandate to build a city. “The couple in the garden was to multiply, so providing the citizens of the city. Their cultivation of earth’s re-sources as they extended their control over their territorial environment through the fabrication of sheltering structures would produce the physical architecture of the city. And the authority structure of the human family engaged in the cultural process would constitute the centralized government by which the life and function of the city, would be organized, under God. The cultural mandate given at creation was thus a mandate to build the city, and it would be through the blesing of God on man’s faithfulness in the covenanted task that the construction of the city would be completed.” (Roger Greenway, Discipling the City, pg.15)
As a result of sin in the world, God’s original intent for the city was distorted. However, we see time and time again throughout the Old and the New Testament that God has a redemptive plan for the city. Therefore, He does indeed have His hand in the city and we can experience His presence here in the downtown core. We do not have to go to the country in order to get close to Him. We can do it right here. I know in my own life I experience closeness with Him all the time through the people I meet and the things I observe all around me.
So, now that we know God has a plan for the city, what does it mean to be ‘The Hand of God in the Heart of the City’? My conviction is that God uses the people He has created to accomplish the desires of His heart. Therefore, we are literally the hands and feet of God if we submit ourselves to His will. Since we are in the heart of the city, we are able to fulfill our motto quite literally, if we seek His will.
Being “The Hand of God in the heart of the City” is a clear calling for all of us here at The GateWay. I believe strongly that we must make commitments to ourselves, to each other, to our clients and to God that if we can’t carry out this motto that we will quit our jobs. We need to see our-selves as inner city missionaries that are called to be here by God to do more than just a job for a pay cheque. We are here to change the world, one person at a time!
I’ve concluded that there are 2 ways to fulfill this motto. They are to:
Be the presence of Christ
Experience the presence of Christ.
Both of these points are based on the fact that all people were created in the image of God, (Gen1: 27) and therefore all of us have Christ-likeness in us no matter what our personal belief system is. As a result, we can both be the presence of Christ to others, and experience the presence of Christ in others.
We are the presence of Christ in a whole bunch of different ways. The programs we offer, the food we serve, the smiles on our faces, the relationships we build, and the compassion in our hearts are all examples of being Christ’s presence. People can simply see that we care for them and that they are worth something by the very fact that we are treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
However, experiencing the presence of Christ is something we sometimes miss. Again, as all people are created in the image of God, we can experience Christ through everyone we meet with. No matter if someone is a drug addict or a prostitute, there are still things that we can witness in them that can help us to be more like Christ, and become healthier people.
My wife and I once handed out bagged lunches every week to people on the street. We particularly loved seeing a native man whom I will call Fred, who lived on a grate at the corner of University and Dundas. He was an alcoholic, and was almost always intoxicated. He had very few worldly possessions. But every time Erinn and I handed him a lunch, his face lit up and he had the most beautiful smile towards us. He was very grateful that we would come and spend time with him and build a relationship. Fred was the presence of Christ to us because he taught us a huge lesson in gratitude. He taught us to never take things for granted, by showing us how thankful he was for the few things he had in life. My point is, if God has something to teach us, than even if He’s speaking from a smelly hot air grate, we should take the time to listen to what He’s saying.
So the next time you’re in church and you see the bulletin cover with a nature scene on the front, ask them if sometime they can have a cover with a picture of some kids playing in the water sprouting from a fire hydrant on a side street, or a man with his hands raised to God while standing on top of a skyscraper. Because God is in the city as well as the country, and we need to never doubt it as long as we live.
Our building has had a major sewage problem recently. Raw sewage has spilled out through any possible vent or pipe on the ground floor and it’s been disgusting. The problem has basically forced us to halt the day to day running of our program. I’ve been wondering what the point of it is. Why did God make it so that we have to pass poison not only for the people around us, but for ourselves as well. Jesus says in John 8: 31, 32 this: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Well, the truth is we’re all full of crap! If the truth sets us free, then we must admit that we are broken, sick, sinful, crappy people. Only then will we be free and be able to accept the gifts that Christ came to offer: community, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and grace.
That’s why the people who pretend that they have everything together and have lots of money and material possessions are the ones in the most bondage. They haven’t admitted the truth of their broken- out of our systems on a daily basis in order for us to survive? Why is sewage such a big industry that requires billions of dollars to maintain?
I’ve come to some small conclusions:
Human waste helps remind us that when you strip us down, no matter if we’re rich or poor, black or white, young or old, male or female; we’re all created in the same way.
“The problem has basically forced us to halt the day to day running of our pro-gram.”
You’ve heard me stressing the need to be vulnerable on many occasions. As of yet though, I’ve not spelled out what that really means. It’s here that I’ll steal ideas from Jean Vanier. He’s a 72-year-old man who’s spent his whole life trying to understand the healing process. He developed the L’Arche community, which is a home for developmentally disabled people. Through his experiences there, he has developed a philosophy of hope. I’ve recently had the privilege of hearing him speak 4 times in two days, and also had opportunity to meet him. (I told some of you that you’d be hear-
All caught up in what we perceive to be important things, if there’s a problem with the way we get rid of waste; everything else seems unimportant and is put on hold.
3. It reminds us that the most disgusting parts of us can bring new life. We use manure to spread over farmers fields, and out of it comes the most beautiful crops of fruit and vegetables imaginable.
It’s this third point I want to focus on. We, in our most basic humanity, can bring healing and new life into the world by exposing our brokenness.
He’s written a book called Becoming Human. In it he outlines seven aspects of love that are necessary for the transformation of the heart. I feel these elements are crucial to the way we do things here at The Gateway. He suggests that we need:
To reveal. “The first aspect of love, the key aspect, is revelation. To reveal some-one’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention and tender-ness. To love is not just to do some-thing for them but also to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention. We can express this revelation through our open and gentle presence, in the way we look at and listen to a person, the way we speak to and care for a person. Gestures can be filled with a respect that reveals to some-one their worth, even if that worth is hidden under anger, hatred, or madness.” (Pg.22)
To understand. People need to be understood. If we don’t try and understand where people are coming from, how can we help people find inner peace and growth? When people are abusive, lazy, violent, etc., it is not only a sign of inner brokenness, darkness and anguish but also a cry for help.
To communicate. “Just as we need to be understood, we also need to understand ourselves and for that we need to be helped.” (pg.24) People who are disturbed need help in naming where that disturbance is coming from. “When nothing is named, confusion grows and with it comes anguish. To name something is to bring it out of chaos, out of confusion, and to render it understandable. When realities are not named, they haunt us.” (pg.25) He then goes on to say that, “…the one who is healed and the one who is healing constantly change places.” (pg.25) (This is where Trent comes in, as he will try and help people name the issues in their lives)
To celebrate. “To love people is also to celebrate them…So often the people we work with are viewed only as problems needing to be attended to by professionals…people also need laughter and play, they need people who will celebrate life with them and manifest their joy of being with them…Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be trans-formed.” (Pg.26)
To empower. “It is not just a question of doing things for others but of helping them, do things for themselves, helping them discover the meaning of their lives. To love means to empower. We all need to learn gradually that we’re responsible for our own body, our own life, and we have authority over our own actions, and we can make our own choices, however small. But with this sense of responsibility comes the necessity of learning to respect others.” (Pg.27)
To be in communion. “Communion is mutual trust, mutual belonging; it is the to-and fro movement of love between two people where each one gives and each one receives…communion is mutual vulnerability and openness to one another…Trust is a beautiful form of love. When we are generous we give money, time, and knowledge. In trust, we give ourselves. But we can only give of ourselves if we trust that we will be well received by someone…Communion makes us vulnerable.” (Pgs.28, 29)
To forgive. “The bonding between people in communion implies that we forgive and that we ask each other for forgiveness.” (pg.30) He goes on to say that because we are human we will continue to hurt each other, and the closer we become the more we open ourselves up to being more deeply hurt. We must be able to accept each other’s humanness and forgive when we let each other down, as well as expect to be forgiven.
In our community here at The Gateway, I think we’ve done a good job of implementing a lot of these ideas. We have brought our brokenness into a community of broken people and witnessed healing. We have seen people housed, employed, delivered from addictions, etc. And we too, as workers, have experienced healing in our own lives as a result.
So why does God make it so we have to pass poison out of our system everyday? A big part of it is to remind us that the truth will indeed set us free. That letting go of the vilest parts of us and exposing it to the earth is the only way to become fully human.
Keep on being The Hand of God in the Heart of the City.
A man once said that the man who lives in hope dies starving
A girl once told me she’s so alone, She sells her body to feel loved
I wonder what could have gone so wrong to be so wrong
Someone on Yonge Street begs for money to buy crack
He says when people give him money.They put another nail in his coffin
and I wonder what could have gone so wrong to be so wrong
Across the street they offer powdered vitamin C to smoke with crack
At the hostel they exchange a cheap bottle or a good one
At the youth shelter they drive the pregnant teen to the abortion clinic
and I wonder what could have gone so wrong to be so wrong
The world spins away towards yesterday
and we keep on worshipping money and sacrificing the weakto appease our god And complain when the price of gas goes up
and I wonder what could have gone so wrong to be so wrong
Hunger on Toronto’s Streets
May 19, 2006 at 6:00 am
It’s difficult to imagine that people living in Toronto are actually hungry. We’re living in one of the most affluent countries in the world, with our government boasting surpluses in the billions of dollars, and yet people are having difficulty finding food.
After spending the bulk of my adult life working with people who are far below the poverty line, I have concluded that poverty issues in our society have almost nothing to do with money and almost everything to do with our culture’s almost complete lack of understanding of what the word ‘community’ really means. As a result, vulnerable people are being left behind.
One of the symptoms of this epidemic is hunger. According to the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, 175,000 people access food relief programs each month; 66,500 of those are children. This is a number that should evoke a righteous outrage. And yet we often find ourselves complaining about the price of gas more than we do about the fact that children are going to school hungry. As Christians, we often vote for governments who seem concerned about issues of personal morality (like same-sex issues, etc.) but forget that a moral and just government needs to take seriously the plight of the poor. They can’t be let off the hook when they choose to cancel programs that care for people who are vulnerable (like opening more day care spaces, especially for single mothers trying to get by).
At The Salvation Army Gateway (downtown Toronto) in 2005, we served close to 120,000 meals. Most of those meals were for men who are experiencing homelessness. 15,000 of them were for people who have their own place to stay but don’t have enough money left over after they pay their rent to buy groceries.
Why is this ok? Why are so many people homeless? Why is it that people have to choose between paying the rent or buying groceries? Could it be that something is flawed in the way we function? Have we perhaps in our own insular individualistic approach to life forgotten that justice is bigger than just voting for governments who are against abortion and homosexuality? Have we bought into the lie that people are poor because they are lazy? Have we sold out to an ideology that suggests that life is about getting as much stuff as we can and then doing whatever it takes to protect that stuff; even if it means turning a blind eye to people slipping through the cracks of our communities?
Here are some practical suggestions:
· Maybe when we all start getting our $100/month for every child we have under the age of 6, we decide to give it away to a group that helps support hungry people. (Most of us don’t need that money.)
· We think of ways to employ the poor. Maybe when we hire our janitors at our churches we decide to hire someone who actually needs a job rather than a kid who’s trying to make enough money to buy an ipod.
· Maybe a group of ‘stay-at-home’ moms at our church can decide to run a day care program for single moms in the community for free.
· Maybe we rethink who we vote for in terms of their thoughts on community justice rather than personal morality.
· Maybe we should take seriously the two great commandments; love god and love your neighbour.
If we did some of those things, maybe, just maybe, we’d start to see some change in statistics like those that the Daily Bread food bank or the Salvation Army Gateway have to publish every year.
Reflections on a decade as Director of the SA Friendship Room/ Gateway
This week I celebrate my 10th anniversary in my current position. While I wasn’t expecting this, it’s caused me to stop and reflect on the events of these years. My reflection has been laden with many questions. What have I accomplished? What have I learned? Have any lives been changed? If I were to die today, what kind of legacy will I have left behind? Has my ministry been successful? What is my mission?
It’s this last question that I believe has shaped me the most. Over the years, I have had several different ideas as to what my mission from God was supposed to be. At some points I believed my mission was to save people. At others I believed it was to seek justice on behalf of people who are poor and oppressed. Recently I have concluded that neither of those is the answer. After a decade in this position, and
When I read Scripture as a whole…
When I mine the depths of the Trinity and reflect on the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…
When I reflect on my humanity in light of my Creator…
When I consider how dependent I am on the Sovereign Lord for my every breath…
When I think of the cross…
When I think of how broken the world is and how futile my efforts are to put it back together…
I conclude that my whole purpose and mission in life is to do things that are pleasing to God. In other words, my mission is to worship Him. (Gal. 2:20, 21)
When I was hired for this job, the position was as program director of a small drop-in centre that was open 5 afternoons per week. We had 5 staff and served about 120 meals each day. We closed on weekends and holiday Mondays. It was a wonderful and vibrant ministry amongst very broken and marginalized people on the streets. As a result of far too many happenings to list here, three years later we were in a new building and the ministry was almost completely different. We had and have close to 50 staff, serve 3 meals a day every day of the year totaling close to 120,000 meals per year, provide 108 beds each night for men experiencing homelessness, provide case management, housing, pastoral, addictions and health supports, do street outreach 365 days per year, have planted a church, clock thousands of volunteer hours each year, and the list goes on. Since we opened our doors 7.5 years ago, we have helped well over 1000 people get off the streets and into better housing. We have seen 100’s of people fall in love with Jesus and enter into relationship with Him. We have witnessed many changed lives, including our own, in ways that cannot be counted.
We changed our name from the Friendship Room to the Gateway because we wanted to provide a place where when people walk through our doors, other doors would open to them. Our most recent project is to create a business, a social purpose enterprise, to help men and women who live in shelters to try and reintegrate back into the workforce. So we will be opening a linen service in about one month that will hire folks from the shelter to do the linens of all of the SA shelters in Toronto. Our graduates will then be offered full-time jobs by a local linen company.
These things have happened because we were obedient to God and strived to do things that were pleasing to Him. The Holy Spirit then went about the work of changing lives.
How do I measure success?
For me, I now know that the success of my ministry can only be measured in one way; it is whether or not my work has been pleasing to Yahweh the sovereign Lord. The fact that in the past decade many people have become Christians or that over 1000 people have gotten off the street as a result of our work is not a measure of success. These are merely symptoms of success that only God can take credit for. And if no one ever got off the street and no one ever committed their heart to Jesus in this past decade and I did things that pleased God, than my ministry would still be a success. (Not that practically I could see that happening as God has promised to bless those who are faithful to Him)
When I began this ministry;
I came to save people. I realize now that it is me that is being saved.
I came to heal people. I now know that it is me that is still being healed.
I came to bring Jesus to people in dark alleys. I realized that Jesus was already in those alleys and I got to meet Him there.
On an even more personal note, during these 10 years I have also married the love of my life Erinn and we have a 4 year old daughter Cate. They have been the source of joy unspeakable for me which would take at least another piece this long to even try to explain.
God has revealed Himself to me and changed me as I have attempted to be obedient and pleasing to Him. And that’s why I know that by God’s grace there are many more years of joy ahead for me.
Bitter/ Sweet Stories from the street that bring me joy
There was this one time when I played in a band with a guy who was severely mentally ill. When he sat down to play the drums, his eyes went clear and he became a drumming machine.
I once was doing street outreach and went in an underground parking lot. Cards came out and we played euchre right there together on the street and we had a great time.
I once went on a camping trip with some folks from the street and we had a canoe race. It was so much fun. One guy dissappeared for 4 hours on that same trip and we began to form a search party for him. He finally showed up and said he was off looking for frogs. Freakin hilarious.
One day I had lunch with a guy in the shelter who explained the Boston Tea Party to me. I never knew what it was before that day.
Another day I had lunch with a man who claimed to be the son of God…
One time a man who we were escorting off the premises threw a giant rock down the steps after us. It could have killed someone had he made contact. It reminded me of the utter desperation of street life.
I once chatted with a girl as she worked the street. She told my friend and me that we were her angels sent from God to speak with her that night. Then she walked away and got into a man’s car and drove off…
There was this one time when a man claimed to have invited Jesus into his heart. Then a few weeks later he announced that he asked Jesus to leave his heart as it was just too dark a place for Jesus to be. His theology is really off but what a lesson in humility!
I was taught how to play chess by folks on the street who I doubt I will ever be able to beat.
One day in chapel, a man was whistling along to the songs we were singing. The whistling was musically painful. When I finally figured out who it was, I realized he was whistling because he can’t speak English and this was his way of participating. Then the whistling became music.
I get to play softball with guys from the street in the summer. I suck at softball. But I feel so encouraged by these guys when I’m on the field. (Plus I get to learn more swear words while we play)
One Christmas Eve/ early Christmas morning my family were handing out Christmas gifts to folks on the street. My then 3 year old daughter wept at the sight of folks sleeping outside in the cold.
There was a time when a few of us went to visit some friends who lived in an encampment. They had a BBQ so we cooked up some steaks and ate like kings together out in the woods.
There once was a man who came to chapel every Wednesday night so we could pray for his constipation. And every week we did…
Several men when they have chosen to quit smoking crack have offered me their pipe as a gift and as a sign that they were serious about quitting. I still have each and every one of those pipes in a sacred place.
I now have colleagues who once lived on the street and dealt with severe addictions but are now clean and giving back to the community.
Once I went to a wedding and sat next to a better dressed guy than me who leaned over and said; “you don’t remember me do you?” I said I didn’t. He proceeded to say “A few years back I came to your drop-in wearing my orange jumpsuit from jail. You walked with me to the clothing room and gave me a whole new outfit and never once looked down on or judged me”. I told him he had given me the best gift I could have asked for that day.
So many stories. So many real people with real blood running through their veins. Homelessness is not the entire CV/resume of the folks we see on the street. My life has been so enriched by the privilege of being able to hang out with very real, caring, compassionate, intelligent, broken people.
Jesus said “Blessed are the poor”. He didn’t say “Blessed are those who care for the poor”. I pray I can continue to let go of the things in my life that don’t matter so I can truly become poor and experience God in deeper and fuller ways.