When I speak to new volunteers about what they can expect, I often say that even the smallest gestures – a smile, a conversation, a shoulder to cry on – can mean so much to someone in need.
I was reminded of this recently when a former client called us from Toronto. She and her husband had been struggling with serious housing and health issues and decided to move to Toronto to be closer to family. While still in Ottawa, they turned to us for basic needs: food, gift cards, personal care.
Quite honestly, at times we felt inadequate to address the seriousness of their problems. What could our support do to address the bigger complexities of their needs?
Apparently – to my surprise – a lot.
“OIM,” the wife explained “did more for us than anyone else.” Puzzled, I stammered, “well, we did very little except to give what we had.” “No, no, you don’t understand,” she insisted. “You were the only ones who supported us through our ordeal. We had no one. No one. I was afraid that one day you would say ‘no more.’ But we kept coming and coming, and you never turned your back. We are so thankful for that.”
I’m still unpacking this today – amazed, perplexed, reflective. And I am reminded that only in God’s economy can the smallest of gestures have this kind of impact on people’s lives.
30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary
This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.
Thanks and God Bless.
Have you read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning? During Nazi-era Germany, Frankl’s wife, father, mother, and brother all died in concentration camps. Frankl himself was imprisoned and under a constant threat of death.
Despite these dark – and unimaginable – circumstances, Frankl emerged still holding onto hope. His rationale, as he explains in the book, is that even in terrible circumstances, the one freedom still left to a person is the choice of creating meaning out of one’s own life.
I don’t often think of Frankl’s book when serving our street-engaged community. But it was a casual conversation with Ken, our Executive Director, about Frankl’s account that made me think of a few of our clients who find opportunities to create meaning out of their circumstances – despite finding themselves in very low places.
Take Sandra. She is on ODSP and struggles with clinical depression, at one point becoming a recluse for a two-year stretch. While her depression remains, she now manages to get up every morning to visit with friends and to volunteer at a retirement home where she socializes with seniors and, as she puts it, tells jokes and makes everyone laugh around her!
Mandy, too, finds herself in ‘a time of waiting on God,’ she says. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago, Mandy eventually found herself all alone after her husband left her. Now, she lives in a rooming house. She is at her lowest and, while she seeks housing, she volunteers at a local soup kitchen, serving food and clothing, and providing comfort to others in similar circumstances.
And then there’s Craig. Craig’s past is littered with self- and other-destructive tendencies: Drugs, alcohol, and childhood abuse contributed to Craig’s 30-year life of violence with stints in jail. Back then, Craig used his fists for fighting. Today, he uses his hands to fix and repair. He runs a word-of-mouth ‘handyman’ business that has him doing an array of jobs from repairing porches to painting interiors and even bike tune-ups.
Sandra, Mandy and Craig are some of my greatest teachers. They have found a way to use their challenges, their traumas, and their pain to help others. And while they have not ‘arrived’ by any means – and who has, really? – it is their continual search to create purpose and meaning in the midst of their circumstances, that constantly encourage and inspire me.
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Ottawa Innercity Ministries
391 Gladstone Avenue