‘Nothing I’ve been told about these people is correct. They are not beggars and thieves. They are not the boogeyman they have been made out to be. On the contrary, they are polite guests and have a familiar humour I enjoy. Real communication is slow however, and the quiet one is as frustrated as I am. Most of our progress has been built on the basis of failure rather than success’.
These lines were taken straight out of the movie Dances with Wolves. The main character Kevin Dunbar is sharing about his first encounters with the Sioux Indians during the American Civil War. Since he does not initially speak Lakota and has no understanding of their culture, Dunbar has a hard time winning their trust and grapples with the misconceptions that had been implanted in him by society.
These lines exactly illustrate my own experiences with the poor and homeless in the downtown core. Especially on Saturday when they come out for food and clothing. Most of them are polite and display common courtesy when being served. Very few show signs of aggression. Never did I expect from the most tallest, burliest men nor the shortest, disheveled, smallest women such level of friendship and openness. It has been difficult to communicate with some, especially the Mandarin-only speaking crowd, but I believe we are beginning to make headway’s in our relationship. Like Dunbar, I continue to be challenged. I wrestle with my own selfishness and judgmental spirit. At times, I feel ashamed I could not help them more, and that I truly do not understand how the poor feel deep down inside. Still, I find this work one of the most rewarding I have ever done.
Allow me to share a story for today. The name and situation has been altered to protect privacy.
Recently a young Caucasian woman named Ellen starting coming for food and clothing. It was a first for me to see someone with an attractive appearance like her around. My initial interactions were only serving her coffee in a large metal mug she carried. Her clear English accent lead me to believe she was a local, but she didn’t divulge much other than making a few polite requests. When she sat down however, she appeared very sullen and depressed. Only when another male around her age showed up and sat next to her did her mood brighten.
It’s amazing to see how the Lord can work through relationships. After about seeing her come for a month, Ellen opened up to me. Quite incidental actually, after I served her coffee as usual we engaged in a bit of chit-chat. I told her that I was going to share my testimony that night and asked for her to stay. ‘I came from an abusive family, it’s not a pretty story’ I told Ellen. ‘So you can identify with us? I’ll be listening’ she softly replied. I could see she was touched, but also holding back tears of hurt.
I talked with Ellen again who was now lining up for clothing. She told me more about her situation. She was in her twenties. I found out that she had parents in Guelph, and that she now lived in a nearby shelter. The man she got along with was her friend, who initially introduced her to Saturday Community Night. All the pieces came together. She was a runaway on the streets. Not a prostitute that was ‘coming clean’ as I had initially assumed.
Ellen actually did stay that night to hear my testimony. However, she quickly disappeared afterwards. I pray that she was touched by it, and I am sure there will be many more nights to share with her the life-giving gospel.