Choosing Love

 

When Art, a long time friend of OIM arrived at the office one morning, his famous smile was missing.

“You okay?” I asked.

“You’ll never believe what happened. I was sitting in my spot panning, doing my thing. You know me, not bothering anybody, and then this one worker comes out of the store and yells at me ‘Get out of here! We don’t want $!&# outside our door!’ I told him not to yell, that’d I’d leave, but he just kept yelling ‘We don’t want $!&#  in front of our store!’ …..He called me $!&#. How can someone do that?”

To say I was disgusted by this story would be an understatement. I wanted to go to the store, find the employee who had dehumanized my friend and give him a piece of my mind.

Instead I sat with Art and we had coffee together.

Just then, Brian entered the office. Brian is a street-friend who has severe Tourettes Syndrome, so out of nowhere he may start to yell or kick or even hit himself repeatedly. It can be quite alarming to witness. As the three of us chatted together, Brian started to have one of his Tourettes attacks. He was stomping his feet and hitting himself, all the while apologizing to us through his screams. He was clearly embarrassed.

Art very gently said, “It’s okay man, it’s not your fault. Don’t mind us, you just do what you need to do. It’s okay.”

I sat in awe of how Art, someone who had just been treated so inhumanely by the store worker, offered such love and compassion to Brian. It amazes me that so often our street-friends are able to comfort each other, despite the fact that they are often in need of comfort themselves.

How often do we feel insulted, cheated or hated, and we let that hate affect how we treat others? But maybe we should take a lesson from Art, and choose love instead.

 

 

Caring – Even When it Hurts

This past week, Moira, our youth outreach worker got the flu – the bad kind.  After a few days away she thought she could return to work and attend a seminar, but at noon I told her we needed to go.  She did not look well.  She tried to take some chicken soup, but that did not go well.  She rested at the office, but it wasn’t enough.  We had to cancel Passion4Youth art program and I told her I would drive her home.

On the way home, Moira took it upon herself to personally contact each of the kids in the art group, to let them know of the cancellation, that she would be OK, and that if they needed a food hamper that they should to come to the office.

I was deeply moved by her interactions with the youth, and equally by the caring responses by the kids.

From what I heard (by accident) the kids were very sorry she was not well, yes they would be fine, and how could they help? One offered to bring tea to her apartment. Others suggested a hot bath, plenty of rest and drinking lots of water.  All good advice, but even more so when we realize that these kids hardly looked after themselves.

The caring responses by Moira perfectly completed each scenerio.   Concerned more for the kids than herself,  Moira consistently and skillfully redirected each conversation back to the kids themselves.  “Are you going to be all right?” “What happened then?” “Wow, what do you think will come of it?” and many more questions of concern were made came as we travelled to her home.

No wonder our youth group has done so well! That kind of care and attention to people is not something that just happens every day. It is a beautiful thing.

(The following is an observation, and is not meant to reflect pride (although I am very proud of the people who come alongside us to be a blessing)).

Multiply that by almost one hundred volunteers, and it is not hard to see why our street friends and youth hold OIM in such high regard.

Question:  Think of the times when someone reached out to you – at a cost to themselves.  Remember how much that meant to you? If you were alone and lonely (like many of our friends who call the streets their home) can you imagine that the impact would be that much greater?

Behind the Story…

I noticed ‘Cal’ on several occasions at the drop in, but I never took opportunity to have a conversation with him until this week.

He was a large man with a hint of European blood in his heritage, often coming to complain about some kind of unjust or unfair thing that he noticed others doing at the drop in.  We always took the time to courteously address his concerns, but I’m not sure that any of us have ever taken time to get to know him.

I approached the table where he sat alone, as he always did, and asked if I might join him for a while.  He agreed and we spent the next hour in a meaningful conversation about his life, where he had been, what he had done and what was going on right now.

As had happened so many countless times before when I have taken the time to visit with one of our street friends, I was amazed at how resilient and strong the human spirit can be.  I heard Cal’s story with great interest,  and listened beyond the details to hear another story running parallel with the one he articulated.

The outward story was about his violent home, his unfaithful wife, his distant mother and his hardened and calloused brother.  Injustice, greed, exclusion, partiality and rejection were the dominant themes outwardly, but inwardly there was even more. He had become embittered, jealous, and resentful: his anger was fueled by the traumatic childhood memories, and constant reminders of his failures from his brother.

I asked about his father, the one figure conspicuous by its absence. The response was immediate: a white collar professional that lived a double life.  He had beaten and abused the two boys from their very first memories and earlier – until the sons became big enough to fight back and put a stop to it.  The adjectives he used to describe his dad(apart from the beatings): hideous, unthinkable, sick, perverted, twisted – it broke my heart.

I hear these kinds of stories from most of my street friends frequently.  The details are different but the themes are the same – all the time.  From earliest memories and before, the effects of abuse, neglect and pain now manifest themselves in a broken man or woman at a table at a downtown drop in. Living with this pain all their lives, lacking needed support without even a friend to talk to, they come to us and share.

And us?  We are privileged to hear the stories, listen intently and for some, for the first time ever, demonstrate the love and care of God.

For the remainder of the day, Cal watched me. Constantly. His eyes were on my every move as I visited from table to table and friend to friend. Every time I looked over to him, he was already looking at me.  It takes a great deal of courage to share your life story with another person, and you might imagine what thoughts might be racing through his mind.

Question: Over 7,300 different people stayed in one of our Ottawa shelter systems last year.  How many carry stories like this?  How can we expect people with this kind of background and no support from family or friends to function properly (“Get up and get a job!”) How many times have we offered a ‘quick fix’ to a complex problem?

Are you a pessimist or an optimist?

cup2

 

 

Are we thankful no matter what?  Even when we are going through difficult times? Perhaps things have been pretty dim looking lately; perhaps you have lost your job recently, as the economy has continued to struggle. Or you may have lost your health, or a loved one. Maybe you’ve lost everything. Such circumstances can be tremendously difficult. But even so, if we look hard enough, we could all find something to be thankful for.

Just ask one of our street friends.

Recently, one of our outreach volunteers wrote, “Met Tim with green hair and printed animal glasses, he was repairing the zipper on his leather jacket with dental floss.  One of the things he said was, ‘some people see their cups as ½ empty, some as ½ full – I’m just thankful to have a cup!’  He is currently homeless, sleeping on the streets.” We could all take a cue from Tim.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)

 

The Small Things Guy…

Following from last week, my friend ‘Jesse’, the ‘small things guy’.

So last week at the drop in, I had to call the police and ask them to remove Jesse as he would not cooperate and leave when I asked him.  The reason?  He was drinking (no surprise) openly (not allowed) and blatantly (not allowed) and was not showing respect to the church where we house our drop in (the biggest offense), neither did he respect the staff and volunteers who make things work.

I was hurt – OK, so I know it’s not about me – but it pained me that my ‘friend’, who in his last letter from jail called me his ‘Best Friend’ walked and stomped all over me (not literally) and our friendship (I thought).

He left the premises last week only when Ottawa’s finest escorted him out – no problem.

So my week goes on and I think about Jesse a lot, and our friendship, and wonder how badly it’s been violated.  Then I’m looking through my shirts and I find one that I think Jesse would like and bring it to the drop in, thinking I would meet him there today.

On the way it struck me that Jesse would not remember even one of the details of our encounter last week.  Nothing.

Staff called to tell me he had arrived at the drop in and I came shortly afterwards.

We connected.  I gave him a shirt.  He liked it. I told him I loved him, and he knew that.  I told him he was not respectful last week and I had to call the police.  What?? he said. Didn’t remember a thing.  Truly.  We hung out for a while and he said he would help me with the memorial service to come later that day.  It was a new day. Fresh start. My Best Friend.  Again.

So what to do?  Life goes on.  Hold things lightly.  Hold others with a firm grasp.  Never let go of hope.  Never give up on people.  Love unconditionally – people need to be loved.

Question: What about the seventy times seven plus one? Does love ever draw the line?

PS (and unrelated): It’s not too late to join our Urban Intervention Training for new volunteers: next session Feb 6. 2014

Staff Perspective: A Night to Remember

A few weeks ago I was walking home from work when something very memorable happened. It was a crisp evening with the streets bustling with people caught up in conversation, running to buses and enjoying the Christmassy atmosphere in the city.

As I was walking down the street I saw one of our street friends was sitting along the side walk pan handling.

Let me give you a little background on my friend Darren. He is currently facing some hard times as someone very close to him suffering with cancer. He has been struggling to stay positive but still seems so strong. He, of course, has had hard days but through it all remains aware of the fact that “God never allows us to go through anything we can’t handle.” (His words.)

Darren will often come by our office and ask the staff here at OIM to pray for him during this hard time. So, while we were chatting on the street last Wednesday he said to me “Can I pray a prayer of thank you over you for all you have done for me?”

I was so honoured that he would want to do this for me. One of our street friends, is asking to pray a prayer of thanksgiving over me! I happily accepted his offer and he started to pray.

It was one of the greatest prayers I have heard! This young man was repeating scripture, praying with passion and a desperation that many of us lack. It was easy to see he was praying with a truly sincere and grateful heart.

It was one of those moments that leave you thinking, “This is why I do what I do.” I was so overwhelmed by this beautiful moment. Someone who was in such pain but despite it all still knows that there are people who care about him so much, and a God who is watching over him. Darren often says that the only prayer God ever answered for him was to give him the strength to handle the challenges he faces.

It was one of those moments where you realize what true gratefulness looks like; it was a night to be remembered, and never forgotten.

 

Samara

~OIM Staff

A Place of Second Chances

I remember very clearly the day when Vern spoke up to support another guy who messed up.  The guy stole something from our office, and we were trying to piece together what had happened.

Vern said, “Of all places I know, this is a place of second chances.”

That statement says so much: it is a recognition of who we are, and how we are perceived; it is a reflection of how God deals with each of us, regardless of our circumstances and position in life; and it is a reminder of our own shortcomings as we reach out to those in need.

This realization that we (staff, volunteers and all of us for that matter) are not that much different from our street friends, ‘levels the playing field’ and shows our humanity, humility and vulnerability.  Additionally, it allows us to connect with people at all levels with a compassion and understanding that is characteristic of our ministry.  Second chances are for all of us.

I sat in the stairwell as my friend Henry sadly reflected on his current place in life, and I listened.  I didn’t have much to say, but I could listen.  After a while, Henry looked at me with a sideways glance, slapped his hand on his thigh and with a guffaw said, “You’re just like me aren’t you?  You are just like me!”

We walk alongside people experiencing poverty and homelessness and we do what we can to help and listen and care.  We soon come to realize that we are no better than anyone, with our failings and fallings, our own shortcomings and challenges: we too look for a place for ‘second chances’.

Question: When did you last need a second chance?

Consider becoming a part of this ministry: Volunteer Training starts January 30, 2014!

In the News…

 

On November 28th, the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program hosted “Critical Impressions”, an art show showcasing pieces related to the youth’s experiences with various social structures.

Check out Christine Ackerly’s piece from Centretown News here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteers Welcome!

Thinking about volunteering?  Just that in and of itself might be enough to change the course of your life!

Volunteers are truly the backbone of OIM, and are the change agents that can bring about change in our street friends’ lives.  I have seen this over and over again, and it never ceases to amaze me.

Sometimes when I go to the drop in I just take a chair near the wall and take notice of how our volunteers are making a difference!  Over here, someone is in an in-depth conversation with a friend.  Not so unusual for our culture perhaps, but we need to realize that this might be one of the first times or one of the only times that anyone has actually taken the time to listen to them, hear their story and show genuine concern for their well-being.

One of our guests is really a loner:  he has never spoken more than two words to me personally (despite countless attempts over many years); one who keeps to himself at a table at the far end of the room alone, and does not interact with anyone; over whom we as staff have prayed and talked and wondered about his story, noting his ‘involvement but only on the fringe’.  On the way to a table to interact with some of the guys, I walk past him as he is in conversation with Fred, one of our volunteers.  I am totally amazed as I listen to him talking and having an actual conversation with Fred!,I counted them, he spoke THREE SENTENCES in a row!  Fred responded as if this was no special occurrence, and it was then that I realized that our friend had found someone with whom he connected.

One volunteer, with no special training (apart from our Urban Intervention Training, see below) has made a connection when ‘trained professionals’ could not.  And a very positive connection at that!

I will be interested to see how this unfolds.  It may seem like a small thing for us, but really this is nothing short of amazing!

Would you like to have a positive influence like Fred has? I’d say the chances of this are very good.  Maybe there is a special someone waiting just for you, who would talk to you, if only you reached out.

Join us for volunteer training January 30.  Maybe God has someone waiting for you to impact in a positive way.  Who knows the change that you could make!  See you at the training!

New Perspective on Home

I attend St. Albans Anglican Church in downtown Ottawa. We are lucky to have space in the midst of both the Market, nearby Centretown, and Sandy Hill. We feel as though we are surrounded by busy city life, with event constantly taking place and people coming and going.

It also means our church body lives with neighbours experiencing poverty and homelessness, in fact our church body, itself, has members who find themselves living in shelters or on the streets. It is a stark reality of urban life, and one our congregational is learning to navigate with sensitivity and compassion. It certainly helps that Centre 454, a social service, is located in the lower half of our church building. The folks who work and volunteer there are the same as those you would encounter at OIM–deeply caring and passionate people.

Though we have the pleasure of housing Centre 454 and partnering with them in their ministry, it can be difficult to know how to incorporate our church’s youth into this part of our life together. We have a small but energetic group and as leaders who see Jesus’ strong dedication to social justice we know it is essential to be able to invite our young men, women and children into experiences that can foster understanding.

As a staff member at OIM I knew about our One Homeless Night program, which invites youth to walk for a night in the shoes of one of their peers experiencing homelessness. Though our size did not lend itself to this activity we truly wanted our youth to experience the lessons and principles that this activity offer.

We invited OIM’s Youth Outreach Worker to join us for an evening of discussion, and walk of ‘new perspective’. We traveled around our own neighbourhood, of Sandy Hill, in the rain, trying to see with new insight the individuals and stories of our very own street community. Some of the stories were difficult, and our youth struggled to understand, but more often than not they rose to the occasion with questions and concern. It was unbelievably valuable experience, and one we brought to a close by packing gifts for the Passion 4 Youth participants and, of course, prayer.

It was imperative that we not only see and understand, but that we follow with action.

I hope next year our numbers will grow, or that we might partner with other churches for a full overnight One Homeless Night event. For now, I am grateful that OIM, a place care for dearly, was able to bless my youth with a new perspective for their own homes, and to challenge them how they might invite inclusion and create spaces of safety and support for their neighbours.

 

Selina,

OIM Staff

If you’re interested in organizing a One Homless Night event with your youth group or school visit our One Homeless Night page for more information.