Posts

A Humbling Experience

Recently, a few of us were talking about people we had met through the drop in and where they were. I talked about John, a man that I had met over 15 years ago when we ran our drop in out of another location downtown. John was a homeless man who had his challenges being homeless with mental illness issues. He was a flamboyant individual, colourful, always had an opinion and was willing to discuss any current topic and extremely political. (If he could have found a way to control his mental illness, I do believe he would have made an attempt to become a politician. But that is another story.)

John’s colourful dress reflected his mood and his outlook. I had once told him he reminded me of a peacock because he always had feathers in his hat and he was brightly dressed. I didn’t mean it as an insult and he didn’t take it that way. It sparked a friendship that has lasted many years…

During Christmas of 2005 my father died, predeceased by mother in 1994 and both in the month of December which makes the period of Christmas hard for me.

In May 2006 I am outside the drop in and in a real depressed mood. We had just put dad in the ground and I am dealing with a lot of emotions; guilt, everything associated with the loss of your last parent. With no close family nearby to talk to I am isolated, with my only siblings in British Columbia. John comes up to me pushing his grocery cart filled with his worldly possessions and sees that I am depressed and asks me what is wrong and I tell him. No one else has picked up on this, or if they have they haven’t asked.

He leans over and very quietly says to me, “I have been there brother. I know exactly what you are going through. I am here for you if you need to talk.” He reaches out, squeezes my shoulder, looks me in the eye and something passes between us that can’t be expressed in words. Tears flow and I mumble ‘thanks.’

Every week I give up my time for the homeless, the marginalized, to support them. And, here, it took a homeless man to recognize my pain and hurt and to provide me the one thing I needed: unconditional love. I was humbled, I was loved and I learned a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Love comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. We just need to learn to recognize it and accept it.

 

Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week – just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, “I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn’t feel like it tonight at least.”

Stop. Pause.

What if it was you?

You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of ‘no good’, you’ll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort…

Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits…

How would that make you feel?

For the one’s and two’s and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, ‘everything’ (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home.

A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was ‘you?’ I know it would mean a lot to me.

Ken MacLaren

Ottawa Home and Garden Show. Why?

OIM has been given a booth at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show, March 20 to 23 at the Ernst and Young Centre.  Why?

A friend of the ministry donated this 10’ x 20’ exhibitor’s space so that people who are thinking about renovating, redoing and re-fixing their own homes might take a moment and consider people who don’t have any home at all.

Our booth will have an area where visitors can see some of the art work that our Passion 4 Youth artists have created; we will be showing the 7 minute OIM DVD and also another shorter DVD featuring interviews from three of the youth from the program; we will have a visual aid of a home (on Bristol board) where visitors can buy a brick for a donation of any amount, and we can collect funds for new space (which we desperately need).

Then we’ll top it off with not one, but two (and maybe three) surprises that you can only discover if you come by and have a visit with us.

The Ottawa Home and Garden people are expecting over 20,000 visitors to the show this year, and it is a privilege to represent OIM there.  We have scheduled volunteers and staff for the entire weekend, and you will want to see how this works!

Please consider this your special invitation: ‘Come on down’ and visit us!

It was there all the time.

It was right before my eyes all the time, just waiting for me to wake up and see it!

Typical of many smaller organizations, our needs often outweigh and outnumber our resources.  While OIM has a good number of faithful supporters whom we rely upon for things like prayer and donations and volunteers, there really is no venue for me to speak to ‘my people’ except through written correspondence (newsletters, letters and email).  This can leave one with a feeling of distance at times as the communication piece is generally one way.

An idea was stirring in my mind for some time, and at the drop in last week, I shared it with our street friends. Just before lunch I asked our group for their attention and said:

It is common in church settings that the Pastor can come to his congregation at special times and ask for things like prayer for special needs that the church might have whether it be in the church itself or within the community.  We have people that faithfully support our ministry, but I never realized that I have a congregation right here from whom I can ask for help, and up until now,  I have never asked for any help from you.

I’m asking for help today.

We need to find new space that will accommodate our office and our outreach program to street youth. It has to be in the downtown area and should be about 3,500 square feet.

I know that many of you pray, so I am asking you to pray for this need.  Whenever you pray, whether it is daily or just once in a while, if you could remember this prayer request, I would really appreciate it. 

Thank you.

Even while I was talking I saw several people scrambling to find something to write on (and with).  There were a few questions of clarification.  Many, many heads nodded in agreement.

For the rest of the day, people came up to me and said things like: “I already prayed.” “I will be praying for you.”  “I wrote it down and will remember you.”  “Praying for you.”

The positive response was overwhelming!  So many positive things will come of this, perhaps the least of which will be the space for our office and youth program!

It was an idea ‘come of age’, and will bring certain results!

Over 2,000 times in Scripture we hear how we are to look after those who cannot look after themselves: the poor, the orphans, the widows, the strangers in our midst. These are ‘my people’.

Our drop in is a ‘sleeping giant’ of a resource that will change the face of OIM through the power of prayer!

It took a long time to recognize it, and its  effects are eternal.

Question: Do you think that God hears the cry of the poor in a special way?

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?

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

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!

A Big Thank-You for a Wonderful Evening

Everyone here at Ottawa Innercity Ministries, staff, volunteers and street-friends, would like to thank our supporters for coming out to our big event last Friday night. Ballet Magnificat!, premiere North American Christian ballet company, performed its two critically acclaimed pieces: The Arrival and Deliver Us.

The event was an astounding success, with seats filled and the dancers at their best. It was an evening of art and worship.

Proceeds from the event are going towards our ministries, and we would like to especially thank those who made additional contributions throughout the evening.

Our 25th anniversary year is almost done, with the approach of a new year only a few months away. We thank all of those who have continued to support us both with their time, donations, and prayers.

As we celebrate 25 years this year we are celebrating not only a great ministry but the 25 years that we have been privileged to serve the poor. Ottawa Innercity Ministries (OIM) was established in 1988 after Rev. Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward answered God’s call to leave their jobs and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the streets.  Years later, in 2003, Rev. Ken MacLaren assumed the duties of Executive Director and has been faithful leading our mission ever since. While street outreach remains the largest component of OIM’s work today, other ministries include our weekly drop-in, office ‘stop-in’ services, a dynamic youth art program, work skills development as well as advocacy and referrals.

Here at Ottawa Innercity Ministries we believe in giving hope to people who feel that there is none left. Whether on the streets, at our office, or at our drop-in, we offer individualized support and care to those who are feeling lonely and isolated, young and old, and who are just struggling to get by. Our many volunteers help us put our vision into action on a daily basis in order to reach out to all those who call the streets their home.

We would like to thank the Ballet Magnificat company Alpha who made Friday evening the spectacular event it was. As well, thank yous to CHRI Radio for promoting our event throughout the city, Salem Storehouse book store for their efforts getting tickets sold, Swiss Chalet for their in-kind donations, and Woodvale Pentecostal Church for their assistance as a great host.

The ol’ Watering Hole: A Survey

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)

Ever wonder why some watering holes have more traffic than others? Recently, we did an informal survey of the top 10 reasons why our street friends enjoy coming to OIM’s programs and services. Here are the top reasons (in no particular order):

  1. “Good listeners”
  2.  “Everyone wants to listen to my stories!”
  3. “No judgment”
  4. “Good food”
  5. “Caring volunteers”
  6. “Friendships”
  7.  “helped me with clothing, shopping”
  8. “helped me get a bursary for school”
  9. “Ken makes me laugh!”
  10. “Good Company”

As our society becomes increasingly fragmented, resembling less a community and more a collection of individuals consumed with blazing our own trails, our street friends are falling further and further behind. Many come from broken families with nowhere to find comfort or company. That’s why our drop-ins, street outreach, and youth art program remain so important. As we look for ways to serve our poor and homeless, we must not forget the significance of friendships and support networks that can get them through some very difficult times.

Stories from the Street: Caged

Greg arrived at the Tuesday Drop-In looking tired and angry. He had a rough look to go with a tough demeanor. I hadn’t seen him before, and picked him out of the crowd right away.

I sat with him and introduced myself. He seemed happy to talk, and told me he recently got out of jail. Greg had been sentenced as a young adult and since has served 30 years with some of Canada’s most notorious criminals. He talked a lot about jail and what it was like inside.

I assumed he was excited to be out of jail, but he said he didn’t feel that way at all.

“That place killed all of the joy that was inside of me. I died in there.” Greg said, “I feel like I was crucified in jail—like I was nailed to the wall. Now I need to heal. I need to pull out those nails and let them heal.” It is a painful image, and a reflection of the struggles of a young man caged for most of his life.

I asked him if there is anything, even something small that brings him joy.

He said “Nothing. Well, except the zoo. I’d like to go to the zoo. I love animals. I’m done with people, but I love animals. I’d like to work with them and take care of them.”

It is nice to see a glimmer of hope in this man. I know that jail can be difficult on a person, and it really changes you, so it was inspiring to see even a little spark in the darkness.

 

~Moira

OIM Staff