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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

The Small Things

Someone gave me a gift of money and instructed to help someone. Nothing came to mind immediately so I tucked it away- and took it out again when Jesse called me from jail.  Not a friend in the whole world, although Jesse has been just about everywhere.  Chronically homeless, he finally got a place some months ago, and his place was secure as it was paid immediately through Welfare.

I bought him a pair of jeans, underwear and gathered some other stuff from our donation pile.  I had $15 left, and knowing that Jesse would never have anyone give him any money for tuck, deposited it in his account.  I didn’t have an appointment so we could not visit, so I dropped the stuff off and left.

Then I got the letter.

Here are excerpts:

Hi Ken. Thank you for everything you did.  I was surprize with the cloth and picture… You Didn’t have to leave me money. you. God Bless… Say Hi to everybody for me. Your pray save my life… thank you for Helping me out, when I ask you went out of your way to bring me the thing I needed.  I was so surprize, Happy (Tears) came Rolling down my  Face.  the Guard ask me Jesse you (OK) I say I am in (Heaven)… you are my Best Friend who care you go out of your way and I thank yo. You Best Friend (Jesse)

No big deal for most of us… but these small things, thoughtful gifts, acts of kindness make a lasting and significant impact on the lives of our friends (even Best Friends!).

Question: How has a ‘little kindness’ you’ve done, make a lasting impact?  Briefly, tell me about it…

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!

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!

“I brought Christmas”

Reviewing our current ‘Christmas trend,’ I see a big build up leading to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, celebrating the birth of our Saviour on December 25th, with an almost unbelievable and instantaneous shift to Boxing Day (and week) sales and super deals, and now to what is (this year at least) a very cold and frigid journey with ‘old man Winter’ bringing temperatures (with wind chill) to     -39°celcius. Whatever happened to Jesus? The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ (not the partridge and the pear tree version) is actually a season designed to continue the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In keeping with this, I want to tell you the story, ‘The Christmas Hampers’.  When I was having lunch with Tessa (OIM’s Christmas Story – still in our archives on the blog page) before we went to do our taping at CHRI, she told me their little family of four didn’t have enough money to have a Christmas dinner.  Afterwards I made a call to a partnering church that was going to collect dinners and deliver hampers and asked if there was enough for another hamper delivery. They said yes.

To make a long story shorter, we obtained Christmas dinner hampers for four family ‘units’ made up of street kids from our art group who had capacity to cook, and Moira our youth outreach worker and I delivered them on December 21. It was an amazing day!

We mostly think of giving hampers to families who would have a mediocre Christmas and a meager Christmas dinner. Folks who are well-deserving, maybe having difficulty making ends meet, who can’t afford lavish gifts and so on. It’s like boosting something small to make it better.

This was not that.

This was giving a hamper to folks who have no Christmas at all.  None.  No tinsel. No gifts. No ornaments. Not even a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. One of the places we visited, a bachelor apartment, you could sit on the bed, turn on the stove and run water in the small sink without getting up.  No decorations or anything.  Nothing.

Something happened when those hampers came into those dark, dismal, ill furnished rooms. Everything changed.  Time stood still as kids rampaged through the cardboard hamper box with squeals, shouts and exclamations of joy, appreciation and, well, it was just like Christmas.

It was one of the most heart-warming experiences ever!

At the first home, there were a few guys who were super happy to get the hamper, and invited us in for ‘a tour’ of the place(!). Two ‘families’ invited us in for tea or hot chocolate, but sorry, no marshmallows.

I dropped Moira off and proceeded over to Hull to deliver the final hamper before heading home.

I located the residence and sent a text to the couple with the ten month old infant. I sat in my car and sent this text:

“Hi guys. Ken here. I’m in your driveway.  I brought Christmas.  Come on out.”

I sent the text and then stopped.

I stared in amazement at what I had written: “I brought Christmas”.

A flood of emotion cascaded over me as I recalled the other three hamper deliveries and what that meant to those families.  If we had not done that, there would be no Christmas. They wouldn’t just have a watered down, or ‘small Christmas’, they would have nothing.  No Christmas.  Nada.

In my mind’s eye I saw how these kids were just so like the kids in our lives on Christmas morning: the joy, the surprise, the magic and more – the feeling of being loved, the sense that someone cared about them, they weren’t forgotten.

Thoughts rushed my mind:  ‘No, it’s not me.  It’s the church committee. No.  It’s the many people who bought groceries enough to distribute to 80 families.  No, it’s more than that.  We all had a part in this.  It’s the supporters, the prayer warriors, the volunteers who help make OIM happen, who give and give and give, and maybe never see first-hand, the fruit of their labours.’

This is so much more than me delivering hampers.  It’s about your Christmas contribution.  It’s about your donation, your prayer, your caring and love for the broken, the rejected and the forgotten.

But this Christmas there were a few who weren’t forgotten.  A few who felt the true meaning of Christmas – of giving, of sharing – the message, ‘I love you.’

It’s still the best message ever!  Happy New Year!

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……