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A Place of Third Chances

With his long, white flowing hair pulled back in a ponytail, Simon walked into our drop-in and back into our lives, eager to “give back” as he put it. As Simon explained, he had been released from prison and was getting his life back together. Estranged from his ex-wife and with a 14-year-old daughter to raise, Simon did not want alcohol or his past troubles to hold him down…again.

That’s because this was his third time around.

Having taken the next steps to go through an alcohol treatment program and transition into a community living facility with employment-readiness training, Simon was finally looking forward to the future. “My graduation from the treatment program is tomorrow,” he beamed. “I was up at 5:30 this morning writing my graduation speech – seven pages so far!”

Simon’s sense of accomplishment was evident.

But so was his desire to move forward. “I need to stay busy. I want to get a part-time job and to start volunteering at OIM.” We were happy to welcome him, to come alongside him in his journey back to health and stability. “You guys were there for me when I needed it,” he told us, “and now I want to give back.”

It was gratifying to know that Simon felt welcomed at our drop-in (not an easy thing for ex-offenders to find in any community, as you can imagine). But, there he was, helping us set up, serve lunch, and tear down at the end of the day.

He was in a place where he felt welcome to start over (again).  And while the road to stability is not easy, often paved with setbacks and disappointments, giving ourselves – and others – permission to make some mistakes along the way can make all the difference.

 

Jelica, Staff

 

 

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

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: A Mighty Man Hidden

I trust you are enjoying our little get-togethers. I find myself again wanting to share with you about a friend named Bob. (As I will always share, for the sake of anonymity, everyone in this series of posts will be named Bob. This will be my standard opening, so I trust you will be patient with me.)

Back to “Bob.”

Bob is a wonderful guy. He’s articulate, engaging in conversation. He presents that air of an intellectual, but not stuffy or arrogant; just genuinely interested in conversation that goes deeper than the weather. I have sat and talked with Bob several times, and enjoy our conversations very much.

In honesty, I am still waiting for the opportunity for our conversations to get personal. Not just theological about Faith and Christ, but where trust and opportunity will present themselves in time. The reason I am mentioning Bob here is that I truly wonder what set of circumstances has brought him to the place where access to a self-sustaining life is limited and the need for support is high.

We are so fortunate at OIM to be able to support and come alongside our friends like Bob.

As for Bob’s life, with many trauma survivors their ability to guard and protect themselves is highly developed, so he has only shared small bits of that part of his life with me so far. In appearance and conversation though, Bob would fit very comfortably within any social environment. He also applies action to words: whenever he sees that I need help with drop-in duties I don’t need to ask. He just steps in and lends a hand. Bob’s heart and desire to contribute and make a difference in life is evident, even though we run into the big “BUT” that drowns his potential. Bob is quite a paradox and I am genuinely blessed to have met him. I pray also that God brings a revelation of Christ into his life because Bob has so much potential to give and impact the life of others.

Rick O, Staff

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?

One Thing in Common

Cal’s story (‘Behind the Story’ see history on right) is common in that he is one of many on the streets who has suffered violence and abuse in his childhood and still lives with the pain.  I asked him how old he was when it all started. He stared at me and said, ‘Always. Since before I can remember. Me and my brother too.’

How do you deal with something like that?  How can you expect anything from a man who has suffered that kind of hellish childhood? And this from his father!

Honestly, I am at a loss to know what to say to this man who has told me about the deepest pain that anyone could endure, and I look at him and listen.  I can’t fix this. He has lived for fifty some years and is a survivor, but his torment never stops – ever.  It’s not something that you can just pack away somewhere and ‘get on with life’.

This week I was in and out of the drop in ‘on the fly’ but took a moment to sit and visit with Cal.  I can only imagine the courage it took to tell me his story and I was humbled that he allowed me to share in it. I sat down and he started immediately to pick up the story line. His brother calls him weekly and brings queries from his mother, and the festering wound never heals.

After some time I asked Cal if he would consider thinking about something.  Just think about it.  One word. We don’t even have to talk about it now, just think about it.  And then I said the word.  Forgiveness.

His response was quick and immediate.  ‘Oh yea, forgiveness.  I’ve done that,’ and then in the next breath, ‘No, I haven’t… I can’t.’

We’re going there – if Cal wants to. Seriously, I’m not sure it’s humanly possible to forgive someone for the kind of wrongs that Cal has experienced.

I couldn’t. But that’s where God comes in and helps us do what we could never do.  It isn’t easy and it isn’t quick and it’s not some magical trick.

But I know it can happen.  I’ve seen it happen to many people over the years and it’s happened to me.  God works in and through me and does what I cannot.

This is my hope and prayer  for Cal.

Question: Where do you think human and divine forgiveness meet?  Has this been a part of your life experience?

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

A Table to Share

“Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” –Ephesians 5:20

Thanksgiving Dinners are a time to gather together with family and friends over an abundance of food—a feast to celebrate the Fall harvest. It is a time of celebration as the air chills and the leaves finish changing colour.

Though Thanksgiving is normally celebrated on the second Monday in October we choose to celebrate the season three weeks later at our Tuesday Drop-In. There are 12 holiday meals available in the city for men or women who may not have the means or company to celebrate. We wait until the turkey has worn off to celebrate with our street-friends—our OIM family.

That is exactly what it looked like last week; if you had been there you would know exactly what I mean. During each of our two sittings we had tables of 10 packed with folks sharing coffee and tea, with servers scuttling between the rows. Tables were covered with tablecloths and floral centrepieces, while plates were heaped with turkey, stuffing, and veggies. One-hundred-fifty friends, 32 volunteers and OIM staff filled Dominion Chalmers with the meal taking place in the hall and the movie “Evan Almighty” playing in the sanctuary for those waiting to be seated.

With the laughter, bad jokes and enticing smells it was a family dinner multiplied by forty! The mood was spectacular as all seemed in high spirits—the wonderful pumpkin and apple pies might have had something to do with that.

We are so incredibly thankful to be able to share those moments with our friends; we are privileged to experience the warm-hearted moments with them.

We are thankful for the churches and businesses that support our organization, the individual donors who enable us to do this good work; the volunteers who serve alongside us; the street-friends who have invited us into their lives and God for sustaining our ministry these past 25 years.

Specifically, we would like to thank everyone who donated to our dinner and our wonderful volunteers. These dinners are such a wonderful opportunity to do something special for our friends, as you might invite a guest to your own home to celebrate the season.

As I poured coffee for an older woman, she held her Styrofoam cup and looked me in the eye, “It’s always so nice to get out of the cold.” She was certainly right, and I was thankful to have for her a place to invite her into, and a hot drink to share.

~Selina

OIM Staff