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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

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

Taking things for granted???

Ken Pic

She walked into the drop in with her head held high, her long strawberry blonde hair (it had seen better days) swirled around her head like flames of fire looking to devour anything in its path. Our eyes meet when she entered the room, and I said ‘Hi,’ but she ignored me and quickly moved through the room. I don’t remember meeting her before.

She was both street wise and street tough – a survivor by anyone’s standard. I guessed she was in her mid 20’s, but she looked older.

I tried to connect with her about 1/2 hour later but was ignored – again. Oh well, sometimes it happens…

Today is an unannounced BBQ lunch and now I’m outside in the garden at Dominion Chalmers with my apron and tongs, cooking up a storm. 125 burgers and I’m almost 1/2 done.

Who comes out into the garden but ‘Firestorm’.  She quickly glances around, assesses the situation, comes directly over to me and asks, ‘Can I flip some burgers?’

‘Sure,’I replied, ‘But you’ll need a hair net,’ and pulled the gray net up from around my eye brows.

She quickly wrapped her flowing locks in a double hair bun with an elastic, and ran inside for a net.

She ran back, grabbed the tongs, we cooked burgers together and chatted.

As she turned burgers on the BBQ, we watched the flames from the fire circle, twist and coil all around the grill, she said, “When you’re homeless, you never get to cook.  I love cooking.  Thanks so much for letting me help.”

Question: What other ‘regular’ things do we take for granted?

 

 

 

 

I lost a piece of my heart…

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  That’s what I feel when I meet someone who just makes me want to weep.

Today I met Constantine….a proud man with a proud name.  He tells me he is seventy years young.  He tells me he is a descendant of Constantine the Great.  He is Romanian he says and has been here for many years, fleeing persecution in his native land.  He says his family left behind is better off without him, he must leave so they can be safe.  He tells me he has been here for many years but has only been on the streets a few months.  He says that mold was discovered in his apartment, that it was making him sick but no one did anything about it.  He tells me he suffered a small stroke and that scared him.  He left his apartment, for good.  Now he’s on the streets.  He has trouble finding food that he can eat because he can’t cook on the streets and his doctor has told him to not eat salt as it’s making him sick.  His legs are swollen from water retention.  He prays.  He thanks God he says every morning when he wakes up.  Thanks Him that he made it through another night.  He’s cold.  He’s wearing three jackets and three scarves today but he is still cold.  He says he has lost about fifty pounds since September, since he’s been on the streets.  He says he has hope though.  He’s pretty sure he’ll be getting another place in a couple of weeks.  He prays it is mold free.  I pray it is too Constantine.

There is something wrong with this world when we allow a seventy year old man with multiple health issues to sleep on the street.

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  I think maybe God did too……